Researchers at the UAE University have studied the importance of the sense of hearing as a sensory cue for astronauts to safely navigate in space.
The researchers from the university’s department of Computer Science and Software Engineering collaborated with Tohoku University, Japan in carrying out the research. The UAE University researchers were led by Dr. Jose Berengueres who authored the research. He noticed that records from the Nasa investigation on the Apollo moon mission where 27 falls and 21 near falls has been partly due to the difficulty of reading the terrain. Thus, spacesuits must be improved to not limit certain movements and the sensory capacity of an astronaut especially in missions to the moon and soon in Mars.
The researchers turned to the Fukuda-Unterberger stepping test to explain how much of the sense of sound contributes to spatial awareness. They conducted an experiment with 14 participants to determine the impact of limited hearing to a person’s balance and movement. “All the data we have now indicates it would (contribute to their safety) but how much of an improvement at the end of the day that represents, we don’t know yet. Anything we can do to improve safety, even at 1 percent, I think is worth exploring especially if it’s a cheaper or lighter option than haptics,” Dr. Jose explained.
Dr. Jose and his researchers’ team, have previously worked on haptic feedback devices installed inside the boots where it can record information of the ground, but they have been testing out simple microphone set ups in the boots for a more sustainable, lighter, cheaper option. The team carried out initial experiments with microphones installed in shoes but aims to do further research with a real spacesuit to run realistic tests.
The difference between the density of the atmosphere in Mars and on Earth plays a huge factor in assessing the effectiveness of incorporating a microphone set up in boots of the spacesuit. “Humans are usually unaware of how much sensory information they are using just to navigate their environment,” Jennifer Fogarty at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas declared.
“There’s a lot of sensors built into our bodies that I think we kind of take for granted. On Earth, our visual and tactile senses work well enough that hearing probably isn’t vital, but things might be different in space. So, if you can bring back something like hearing your footsteps, maybe it is of added value.”