A prototype robot, jointly developed by NASA and General
Motors, will be flown to the International Space Station for tests working
alongside the live-aboard crew.
Robonaut 2, nicknamed R2, won’t be making any spacewalks — it’s not designed to handle the temperature extremes and harsh environment of space, and it will be restricted to hanging out in the U.S. Destiny laboratory. Future enhancements may give R2 more roaming privileges, NASA said.
The project is designed to test technologies and systems
that will enable people and robots to safely and productively work together in
closer contact that what is now typical.
“A giant robot swinging around that doesn’t know
whether a person is there or not is a bad thing. You can end up with all kinds
of accidents. Robots can be very dangerous pieces of equipment,” Marty
Linn, GM’s principal engineer of robotics, told Discovery News.
The 300-pound robot consists of a head, torso and two
human-like arms and hands. It is designed to handle the same tools and
equipment people use, and may one day serve as assistants to spacewalking
astronauts or handle tasks too dangerous or difficult for humans.
“R2 will be tested in microgravity and subjected to the station’s radiation and electromagnetic interference environments. The interior operations will provide performance data about how a robot may work side-by-side with astronauts. As development activities progress on the ground, station crews may be provided hardware and software to update R2 to enable it to do new tasks,” NASA said in a press release.
The robot currently is undergoing testing in preparing for
launch in September. GM has an R2 twin which is being used to develop technologies
for future vehicle safety and manufacturing applications.