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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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RE: weird
By randomly on 11/2/2010 6:45:48 PM , Rating: 3
It's humanoid shaped because it's operated remotely through a telepresence link by a human operator. It's able to use human tools, has human reach, fits in human spaces. The humanoid form allows much more intuitive control by the human operator.
The operator sees what the robot sees, through force feedback in the controls the operator also feels what the robot feels.

Utilizing Telepresence robotics you get the best of both worlds. All the benefits of a robot but with a human brain controlling it in real time and making judgements and decisions.
With the real time video link and force feedback controls the operator actually feels as if he is the robot doing the work. This allows the system to be vastly more efficient and flexible than an autonomous robot.

Because of the problems in space of radiation, mass limits to landing vehicles, not to mention return vehicles for bodies with significant gravity (moon, mars, etc.) it's much more efficient to just get the astronauts close to the target (within a light second) and then send out telepresence robotic vehicles controlled by the astronauts. It drastically reduces total mission mass and puts missions that once were so expensive to be economically unfeasible into the realm of the possible.

Better get used to the idea because if you want a human space program this approach is the closest you can get to something we can actually afford.

Personally I'm looking forward to a human mission to Phobos with telepresence exploration of Mars. With half a dozen or more telepresence robots in different locations and small sample return vehicles you can do a lot more in a single mission for a lot less money than trying to land humans in one spot and getting them back again.

Should make for awesome videos too.


RE: weird
By Ammohunt on 11/3/2010 2:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
too bad telepresence is useless at those distances limited by the speed of light.


RE: weird
By JediJeb on 11/3/2010 2:54:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yea, can you imagine trying to control the robot with up to minutes of delay in what you do versus the return information on the results. If you were wearing a suit to control it, that would be very tiring indeed.


RE: weird
By randomly on 11/4/2010 9:00:17 AM , Rating: 2
That's why you send your astronauts to the bottom of a crater on Phobos where they can take advantage of the radiation shielding from the regolith. Then land your telepresence robots at various places of interest on Mars along with small sample return vehicles that can be filled with samples by the robots and then launched back into Mars orbit to be recovered and analyzed by the astronauts. Communications delay from Phobos to Mars is only tens of milliseconds.
You avoid the enormous difficulty of landing humans into Mars's deep gravity well and getting them back out again. An entire mission to Phobos and back to Earth only requires a similar delta-V to landing on the moon.


"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs














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