Humanoid robots working with astronauts may sound like part of a science fiction movie. Yet, they are slowly being implemented in the real world. Case in point- the first humanoid robot in space, Robonaut 2, has recently been picked for NASA’s Invention of the Year award for the year 2014. Robonaut 2’s home is ISS, where it works side by side with human astronauts. The technologies needed to make this space robot aren’t just useful to space exploration, as those technologies will be adapted for use on Earth.
Robonaut 2 was judged by six different criteria
R2 was chosen for the award by the NASA General Counsel, the NASA Invention and Contributions Board, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. It was rated in six different areas: Aerospace Significance, Industry Significance, Humanitarian Significance, Technology Readiness Level, NASA Use, and Industry Use and Creativity. It is interesting to note how heavily usefulness to people on Earth was weighed during evaluations for this award. Due to its number of possible Earth tech applications, Robonaut 2 did very well in those areas.
Who was behind development of the space robot?
R2 was developed together with General Motors through a Space Act Agreement. The original prototype, R1, was built as a ground prototype meant to examine the potential uses for a humanoid space robot. R1 was envisioned to help astronauts conducting spacewalks by preparing their worksites and providing a precise set of mechanical hands for helping to perform maintenance and repair objectives. R2, predictably, is a better version of R1, upgraded to be faster and more dexterous than the original. It features greater mobility and a safety system that permits it to work alongside astronauts and potentially be of great help.
What are some technologies employed by R2 that may be useful in Earth applications?
Robonaut 2 is truly cutting-edge. It is the first robot ever in a human space vehicle operating without a cage, and also the first robot in space to work with tools designed for human use. Technologies originating from this project have given way to 39 patents issued, with more being reviewed. A few examples of the important technologies showcased by this remarkable space robot are a robotic glove, a robotic exoskeleton, and certain telemedicine tech.