Robonaut 2 set to move freely about space station

March 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Howell, Universe Today
Robonaut R2A waving goodbye as Robonaut R2B launches into space aboard STS-133 from the Kennedy Space Center. R2 is the first humanoid robot in space. Credit: Joe Bibby

Legs—yes, legs—are on the manifest for the next SpaceX Dragon flight. The commercial spacecraft is expected to blast off March 16 with appendenges for Robonaut 2 on board, allowing the humanoid to move freely around station. After some initial tests in June will come R2′s first step, marking a new era in human spaceflight.

What's exciting about R2 is not only its ability to take over simple tasks for the astronauts in , but in the long run, to head "outside" to do spacewalks. This would greatly reduce risk to the astronauts, as extravehicular activity is one of the most dangerous things you can do outside (as a spacesuit leak recently reminded us.)

When installed, Robonaut will have a "fully extended leg span" of nine feet (wouldn't we love to see the splits with that). Instead of a foot, each seven-jointed leg will have an "end effector" that is a sort of clamp that can grab on to things for a grip. It's similar to the technology used on the Canadarm robotic arm, and also like Canadarm, there will be a vision system so that controllers know where to grasp.

The robot first arrived on station in February 2011 and (mostly while tied down) has done a roster of activities, such as shake hands with astronaut Dan Burbank in 2012 (a humanoid-human first in space), say hello to the world with sign language, and do functions such as turn knobs and flip switches. During Expedition 34/35 in 2012-13, astronaut Tom Marshburn even made Robonaut 2 catch a free-floating object through teleoperation.

A ground version of NASA’s Robonaut 2 (left) flashes a Star Trek Vulcan salutation along with George Takei, a star of the original series, in 2012. “It was a keen demonstration of Robonaut 2’s manual dexterity. The gesture is difficult for many humans to make,” Takei wrote on Facebook. Credit: NASA/James Blair

Eventually NASA expects to use the robot outside the station, but more upgrades to Robonaut 2′s upper body will be needed first. The robot could then be used as a supplement to spacewalks, which are one of the most dangerous activities that humans do in space.

NASA Expedition 35 astronaut Tom Marshburn (background) performs teleoperation activitites with Robonaut 2 aboard the International Space Station in 2013. Credit: NASA

Closer to Earth, NASA says the technology has applications for items such as exoskeletons being developed to help people with physical disabilities.

Explore further: NASA's humanoid robot unveiled on space station

Related Stories

NASA's humanoid robot unveiled on space station

March 16, 2011

The first humanoid robot ever launched into space is finally free. Astronauts at the International Space Station unpacked Robonaut on Tuesday, 2 1/2 weeks after its arrival via shuttle Discovery. NASA broadcast the humorous ...

Space Image: Man and machine

March 19, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- While Robonaut 2 has been busy testing its technology in microgravity aboard the International Space Station, NASA and General Motors have been working together on the ground to find new ways those technologies ...

NASA to add legs to giant robonaut aboard the ISS

November 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —NASA has announced its intention to add legs to the Robonaut 2 (R2) robot currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), sometime next year. The move is part of a 50 year project (currently in year ...

Recommended for you

First detection of lithium from an exploding star

July 29, 2015

The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO's La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain ...

New names and insights at Ceres

July 29, 2015

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.