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NASA's humanoid robot ready for lift-off

posted 31 Oct 2010, 12:06 by Sam Mbale

Among the passengers aboard space shuttle Discovery's journey to the International Space Station this week will be Robonaut 2 or R2, the first dextrous humanoid robot in space. Discovery is scheduled for lift-off on Wednesday (November 3)

He may not be as talkative or witty as Star Wars fictional robot R2-D2, but NASA says Robonaut 2 - also known 
as "R2" - will play an important role on the International Space Station (ISS).

Created at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, R2 is the product of an advanced robotics partnership between General Motors and NASA. The robot looks similar to an astronaut in a space suit with a head, torso, two arms, and hands that can grip objects in the same way as a human.

The robot has the ability to perform in zero gravity. R2's work assignment on the International Space Station will involve assisting human astronauts with ergonomically challenging tasks as well as jobs that are dull and repetitive. R2 is equipped with advanced control, sensor, and vision technologies. Though R2 will be confined to the lab for this mission, GM and NASA foresee a future version of R2 that will be able to move freely around a space station complex.

Initially, R2 will be deployed on a fixed pedestal inside the ISS. Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the Space Station, upgrades for R2 to go outside into the vacuum of space, and then future lower bodies like legs and wheels to propel the R2 across Lunar and Martian terrain.

GM says Robots such as R2 are also useful on Earth as well. Much like in space, the robot's ability to efficiently complete dull and repetitive tasks in a dangerous automotive manufacturing environment make it ideal worker.

GM and NASA have a long history of working together on key technologies dating back to the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions and the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle which was the first vehicle to be used on the moon.