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Robonaut 2  (Source: topnews.net.nz)
Robot will be sent into space forever on November 3

NASA and General Motors have developed a humanoid robot that will be the first of its kind to travel into space and never return.

The robot, Robonaut 2, or R2 for short, is a $2.5 million project that will be flying into space tomorrow afternoon on the space shuttle Discovery. R2 will be sent to the International Space Station where it will assist human astronauts in orbit and take over cleaning-related responsibilities at the station.

In 1997, NASA designed a similar humanoid robot named Robonaut 1, but the project ended in 2006 due to financial problems. General Motors soon joined the design team and together, they created an improved version of Robonaut 1, and unveiled R2 earlier this year. 

R2 consists of an upper torso, head, arms, hands and fingers. It is 3 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. R2 is made of aluminum and nickel-plated carbon fiber, and has padding on the torso, arms, hands and fingers for protection. The joints contain springs and 350 electrical sensors for grabbing and touching, and the "brain" is located in the stomach. Four visible light cameras sit behind the robots visor with an infrared camera inside the mouth for depth perception. R2 will carry a backpack that holds its power source, which can be plugged into the space station. The backpack is also capable of holding batteries in case R2 needs to leave the station.

NASA and GM hope to use R2 to assist astronauts in orbit. R2 is capable of withstanding extreme hot and cold conditions, assisting astronauts with tools and handling emergencies like fires or toxic leaks. At some point in the future, R2 could even "scout out" Mars, asteroids and other worlds. 

R2 will be traveling with six human crew mates accepting orders and going through a series of tests to see how well it operates and what can be done to improve it in the space station. In late 2011, NASA plans to send R2 legs so it can take on cleaning-related responsibilities. In 2012, torso and computer enhancements will be sent as well.

NASA officials noted that R2 will not replace human astronauts. R2 was made to help human astronauts, and will stay at the space station until NASA ceases to operate that particular station sometime after 2020. 

"While it might be just a single step for this robot, it's really a giant leap forward for tinmankind," said Rob Ambrose, acting chief of Johnson Space Center's automation, robotics and simulation division in Houston.



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Why?
By MrTeal on 11/2/2010 2:52:20 PM , Rating: 2
I could see if this was being used as a space based crash test dummy, observing the effect of space or radiation on different parts of the human body. That's not what it appears to be tailored for.

Using human shaped robots is really just inefficient. There's a reason why a welding robot doesn't look like a human working a MIG pack. Pick and place machines in electronics manufacturing aren't made to look like overworked suicidal Foxconn employees. All those extra tiny actuators are just components to break down, with no purpose other than to make it look creepily like a human.




RE: Why?
By Hakuryu on 11/2/2010 3:17:12 PM , Rating: 2
You are comparing a robot that does one thing only, to a robot capable of doing many different things.

R2 could possibly perform any job a human could, and I think this is the reasoning behind it's shape. Instead of having 20 specialized robots, with specialized tools, and the need for specialized techs, we can have one robot that could do all the jobs, with existing tools built for humans.


RE: Why?
By geddarkstorm on 11/2/2010 3:27:29 PM , Rating: 2
Absolutely correct. A robot that can switch out and use multiple tools, while having a wide range of motion, balance, and all packaged in the most simplistic and small size possible, is far superior to something locked into one task when it comes to general utility.


RE: Why?
By JediJeb on 11/3/2010 2:56:26 PM , Rating: 2
Also if the robot breaks down, a human can still pickup the tool and use it since it was designed for human use from the start.


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