Robonaut 2: NASA, GM Create Cutting Edge Robotic Technology

Feb 04, 2010
Robonaut2 - or R2 for short - is the next generation dexterous robot, developed through a Space Act Agreement by NASA and General Motors. It is faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced than its predecessors and able to use its hands to do work beyond the scope of previously introduced humanoid robots.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Robonaut is evolving. NASA and General Motors are working together to accelerate development of the next generation of robots and related technologies for use in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Engineers and scientists from NASA and GM worked together through a Space Act Agreement at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston to build a new capable of working side by side with people. Using leading edge control, sensor and vision technologies, future robots could assist astronauts during hazardous space missions and help GM build safer cars and plants.

The two organizations, with the help of engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, developed and built the next iteration of Robonaut. Robonaut 2, or R2, is a faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced robot. This new generation robot can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines. R2 can work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space.

"This cutting-edge holds great promise, not only for NASA, but also for the nation," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "I'm very excited about the new opportunities for human and robotic exploration these versatile robots provide across a wide range of applications."

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"For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants," said Alan Taub, GM's vice president for global research and development. "When it comes to future vehicles, the advancements in controls, sensors and vision technology can be used to develop advanced vehicle safety systems. The partnership's vision is to explore advanced robots working together in harmony with people, building better, higher quality vehicles in a safer, more competitive manufacturing environment."

The idea of using dexterous, human-like robots capable of using their hands to do intricate work is not new to the aerospace industry. The original Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed for space travel, was built by the software, robotics and simulation division at Johnson in a collaborative effort with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency 10 years ago. During the past decade, NASA gained significant expertise in building robotic technologies for space applications. These capabilities will help NASA launch a bold new era of space exploration.

"Our challenge today is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space," said Mike Coats, Johnson's center director. "Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, machines like Robonaut will expand our capability for construction and discovery."

Robonaut2 surpasses previous dexterous humanoid robots in strength, yet it is safe enough to work side-by-side with humans. It is able to lift, not just hold, this 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body.

NASA and General Motors have come together to develop the next generation dexterous humanoid robot. The robots - called Robonaut2 - were designed to use the same tools as humans, which allows them to work safely side-by-side humans on Earth and in space.

NASA and GM have a long, rich history of partnering on key technologies, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions. GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle, the first vehicle to be used on the moon.

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gideon
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
"For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants,"

I'll bet their profits will be safer too once they replace their entire workforce.
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
In a civilization with high degree of robotics, the economics would shift in ways which would tend to be much more socialistic.

After all, the auto-maker only makes "money" if there are humans who want to buy the autos....and people can't buy autos if they don't have jobs doing "something". If robots do 99.9% of all manual labor, then there won't be "blue collar" workers of any kind, and there may not even be "white collar" workers other than programmers, engineers, and other scientists.

Which means that "money" and "wealth" would be worthless and pointless concepts.
danman5000
not rated yet Feb 05, 2010
Sort of foreboding how the last picture shows the robot holding something eerily similar to a pistol. I can't wait for the Overlord model to come out!
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2010
When robots do all the mundane, humans are needed to conjure up and sell unnecessities to each other. (Don't get me started on cell ringtones!)

A smart nation would allocate as many as possible of the smartest, to science and education. This serves both the nation, and mankind as a whole, on the side.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2010
As per the future without human laborers, I have always imagined a future where few people need to work. If you have robots to produce products, robots to repair robots,farmer robots, robots to recycle materials....etc, Why would anyone have to do anything? Why would you need money? Want a tennis racket? You get it for free, if you want to play golf, recycle the racket and get free clubs. Sorry, I have an idealistic Star Trek vision of the future where there is no money and everyone gets what they need and want via technology. As long as most people don't hoard all their stuff and submit it for recycling when they're done, there are plenty of resources for everyone to use. Humans just need to realize that evolving beyond greed will give us all a better quality of life.
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
So your view of the future depends on people evolving beyond greed and taking the time to recycle?

Ruh roh...
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
I'll bet their profits will be safer too once they replace their entire workforce.


I'm sure replacing the entire human workforce with these robots would require no capital or operating costs.
Wha_wha_what
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
@Javinator - No, it costs money to build and maintain them, but your investment goes a long way.

Say an assembly robot costs $100k and can equal a human's workload on an hourly basis. It runs 24/7, so it's preforming the work of 3 humans. One maintenance human can keep 50 of them going, so you have upkeep but it's low.

It's easy to imagine how fast that initial investment is repaid.
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 10, 2010
I'm not saying it couldn't happen in the future, but with the company's current financial state I don't see how it could possibly make that kind of capital investment. Even with an assumed $100k price you would need thousands of them to replace the workers in GM plants (ie. we're in the $Billions).

They also wouldn't be able to replace the entire human workforce because robots lack human judgement. As it said in the article these would work side by side with humans. If the task were simple and monotonous enough for a machine to do it, a cheaper, specialized machine is probably already doing it. If the task is complex enough that human dexterity is required to complete the task it is also likely that a human's judgement will be required to ensure the task was completed properly. If not, QA would likely fall through the floor.
gideon
not rated yet Feb 11, 2010
If you could get a robot to build a car - you could get a robot to build a robot. All this talk of 'maintenance' ignores the possibility that robots don't need maintenance, they could simply be scrapped and replaced by new robots, which were built by robots. At that point there needn't be a human involved at any point beyond planning and there will be a complete net loss of jobs. I'm not saying a world without jobs is a bad thing but is humanity preparing for that transition, or just insisting that there's always another job waiting for you if you just keep looking. As for 100k being alot of money, it's likely 2 or 3 years salary for a GM employee, and if the robot can last longer than that then it will be profitable (even more so for any time longer after that period)
philosothink
4 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2010
What most people fail to take into consideration, is that making a robot to many jobs is far too complicated for current, or even very near future programmers and programming. For example, repairing an air conditioner. Robots and people need schematics to do many repairs. Also, there are "intuitive" processes that humans have, due to biochemical activity, from the various regions of the brain.. etc. In all likelihood, a human pilot will still be needed until the rather distant future. I doubt robots will be intelligent enough to do most human work. Assembly line work, garbage collection, lawn mowing, highway paving, etc will be easy. Repairing a 30 year old air conditioner, or crawling under a house to install ductwork, or repairing a car even. These things will remain beyond the scope of robots for some time to come.

I think the spread of robots will not begin in full force, until the robot is created, that can clean a house. At that point, they will become ubiquitous.