Robonaut 2, the humanoid working robot that's been under development with NASA and General Motors, is finally ready to show its stuff in outer space, GM announced Wednesday.
The Robonaut 2, aka R2, will take up residence at the International Space Station, with a voyage to its new home planned for this September as part of the STS-133 mission on the space shuttle Discovery.
The Canadian Space Agency already has a humanoid robot residing at the International Space Station for spacewalk. Like the R2, it also has two long arms for completing tasks otherwise done by astronauts. Its primary coverage is the exterior of the space station. The R2, in contrast, will be covering the Destiny laboratory, one of the five U.S.-named modules attached to the International Space Station. The robot will be tested for how well it fares with vibrations, zero gravity, radiation exposure, and electromagnetic interference.
A descendant of the Robonaut astronaut robot developed over a decade ago by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the updated version has more dexterous hands. It can pick up a piece of paper without wrinkling it, but also has the ability to lift up to 20 pounds in each hand (see video embed). A group of GM engineers worked alongside NASA scientists and engineers at the Johnson Space Center laboratory in Houston to develop Robonaut 2.
The 300-pound robot, which consists of a torso with a head, two arms, and two humanlike hands, will even been tested on how well it gets along with others. Like the R2 unit of Star Wars fame, NASA has said it sees its R2 robot as a potential partner to work alongside a human, and will be testing to see how well that type of relationship works.
Engineers on the ground in Houston will man the robot remotely via a space station laptop. If the robot passes all its initially scheduled tests, it will then be given updated hardware and software to learns new tasks, according to GM.
But the R2 serves a twofold purpose. While it's in and of itself a robot for use with the NASA space program, GM is using its collaboration with NASA as a springboard for improving its own robotics program. The vision, motion, and sensor features on the R2 are being evaluated for use on GM manufacturing robots in development, according to GM.