Shades of R2D2, C3PO and HAL… the first human-like robot – the first factual one, that is – to blast into outer space has taken up residence in the International Space Station. Robonaut 2, or R2, was developed jointly by Nasa and General Motors under a co-operative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.
The 140-kg R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 launched on space shuttle Discovery as part of that craft’s final mssion.
Aboard the space station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness and in the station’s radiation and electromagnetic interference environments. Throughout its first decade in orbit, the space station has served as a test bed for human and robotic teamwork for construction, maintenance and science.
R2 will be confined to operations in the station’s Destiny laboratory. However, future enhancements and modifications may allow it to move more freely around the station’s interior or outside the complex.
“This project exemplifies the promise that a future generation of robots can have both in space and on Earth, not as replacements for humans but as companions that can carry out key supporting roles,” said John Olson, director of Nasa’s Exploration Systems Integration Office at Nasa Headquarters in Washington. “The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts. It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”
The dexterous robot not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crew members use. In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans. For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space. (Source: Nasa.)
Find out more about Robonaut 2 in this video.