NASA is about to launch its long-awaited robotic companion to astronauts in space: Robonaut 2.
In a unique partnership, NASA and General Motors have come together to develop a new generation of robots for both the automotive and aerospace industries.When we found GM as a partner, it was just a beautiful marriage," said Rob Ambrose, chief of the Johnson Space Center's automation, robotics and simulation division in Houston.
"They had a very similar interest: They wanted to have a robot that could handle things that were designed for humans to assemble them, and to do it safely right next to people.
"Our vision is not to replace people. Who needs a robot that can work with people and can be safe if you have no people? From the very beginning, the Robonaut vision has had people there, and the robots are their helpers," Ambrose told AOL News.
While nearly 200 people from 15 countries have traveled to the International Space Station, the Earth-orbit complex will soon have its first non-human member on board.
After 15 years of development, including Robonaut 1 versions, Robonaut 2 will venture into space on the space shuttle Discovery, scheduled to launch on its final mission, STS-133, Feb. 24. R2, as it's affectionately called, will be brought over to the ISS to begin its initial in-space tasks.
In 1996, when Ambrose was given the task of coming up with the overall Robonaut program, he envisioned a humanoid robot."We definitely wanted the robot to look like an astronaut in a spacesuit. So if you look at the design, the strongest influence in the aesthetics of the design are the astronaut spacesuits. If you look at it side-by-side with an astronaut, it actually might look a little more human because the spacesuit doesn't have much of a waist or neck. But clearly, we were trying to fit in with the astronauts." ...
An important factor in making the robot humanoid, right down to the fingertips, was so it would be totally astronaut-friendly.
"The Robonaut vision was a robot that could meet or exceed human dexterity, working with the same interfaces that were designed for astronauts, so that it could be a good assistant. If it can't handle the same objects that an astronaut handles, it's really not going to be a very good assistant," Ambrose explained.
"In the same way that a scrub nurse needs to be able to handle all the same tools that the surgeon handles, you've got to be able to work with the same interfaces. That's all about the upper body, about being able to handle objects and do work."
When R2 is powered on at the ISS, it'll have specific responsibilities.
"We're going to start out relatively simple, by setting it up inside the space station on a fixed pedestal, so there's no lower body. We've got a very nice task board that has all sorts of things that humans work with: switches, buttons, lights, indicators, electrical connectors and fluid couplings -- things that were designed for human hands to interface with," Ambrose said.
"They get progressively harder across the task board, starting with easy ones and then working your way across to the more advanced ones." ...
via Robonaut to Join Astronauts for Space Mission.