A Giant Leap for Humanoid Kind
Photo by NASA/GM
NASA and GM are are working on an advanced humanoid robot that could soon hitch a ride into space. Called “Robonauts,” these next generation space explorers may perform similar scientific tasks to astronauts, but wouldn’t require any of the life support equipment or shelter. The first robonaut could travel to the space station to work side by side with astronauts in the next three years.
Unlike NASA’s Mars Rovers, the first of these humanoid robots, called Robonaut 2, is designed to closely mimic the shape, movement, and behavior of a human. This could make it ideally suited to working alongside humans, or for testing human spacecraft and living quarters, but it also presents some unique engineering challenges. GM hopes to use the robots in its manufacturing plants and to incorporate the resulting technology into some of its products, including vehicle safety systems.
The engineers behind Robonaut2 began working on the robot in 2007; its design originated from a version that NASA created more than 10 years ago.
Robonaut2 currently consists of just an upper torso. It weighs about 45 kilograms and is equipped with over 350 sensors. These include tactile sensors on the contact points of the robot’s fingers and its palms, and proximity sensors in its arms. Engineers have also built springs and elastic materials in the joints to give the robot better control and flexibility, and to allow it to move at faster, more humanlike speeds. The robot can carry payloads of about nine kilograms–four times more than other humanoid robots.