Robotics

NASA sends humanoid robots to university

The supercool R5 "Valkyrie" robot was originally designed for disaster relief
The supercool R5 "Valkyrie" robot was originally designed for disaster relief
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The supercool R5 "Valkyrie" robot was originally designed for disaster relief
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The supercool R5 "Valkyrie" robot was originally designed for disaster relief
The two R5 robots will be used to develop upgraded software to make them more dexterous and autonomous
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The two R5 robots will be used to develop upgraded software to make them more dexterous and autonomous

If one thing has been learned in the last half century, it's that sending astronauts into the harsh, unforgiving environment of space is both dangerous and expensive. To find a way to minimize risk and cost, NASA is sending a pair of prototype humanoid robots back to school. The space agency is giving two R5 "Valkyrie" robots to university groups at MIT and Northeastern University for advanced research and development of robotic astronauts that could act as vanguards for manned missions or as assistants for humans traveling to Mars.

NASA selected the two universities from a competition between university groups that participated in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The winners are the Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments program at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and the Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge at Northeastern University in Boston. Each will receive one of the R5 robots.

Standing 6 ft (1.9 m) high and weighing 290 lb (125 kg), the formidable-looking humanoid R5 was built by NASA's Johnson Space Center and the University of Texas and Texas A&M. It has an onboard power pack, a suite of sensors and cameras, and detachable limbs. It was originally designed for earthbound disaster relief work and participated in the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge, where it did much more poorly than expected – coming in at the bottom of the field. Now it's going back to its ultimate goal of helping to develop robotic astronauts.

The two R5 robots will be used to develop upgraded software to make them more dexterous and autonomous
The two R5 robots will be used to develop upgraded software to make them more dexterous and autonomous

In addition to the robots, each group will receive up to US$250,000 a year for two years from the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which is dedicated to fast-tracking space technologies. In addition, the groups will have onsite and virtual technical support from NASA.

The robots will be part of the NASA's upcoming Space Robotics Challenge. Divided into a virtual competition for robotic simulations and a physical competitions for the two upgraded R5 robots, its aim is to create better software to produce more dexterous and autonomous humanoid space robots.

"Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars," says STMD associate administrator Steve Jurczyk. "We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development."

Source: NASA

6 comments
Mel Tisdale
It would surely be better to make the things six-legged so that they can clamber over rock-strewn surfaces much easier. If there is a chance of bumping into any aliens, then we could give them a flyer (of the paper variety) that shows some photos of what we are really like. (If they seem aggressive, we could nip past them while they are doubled up in hysterics.)
phissith
I think we are looking into the future here, man are not made for space travel especially in term of light years. What man can do is to sent out robot such as these that are then semi control from Earth but also fully automate like drone we are so use to seeing.
frogola
coming in at the bottom of the field. wow
the.other.will
A humanoid robot makes sense for firefighting & for rescue inside of buildings & ships, but there's neither on other planets. The 4-legged Boston Dynamics Bog Dog & US Army LSSS make more sense. The "drones we are so used to seeing" are remote controlled, not fully automated. A robot that goes to other planets instead of, rather than with, astronauts will need powerful AI, either built in or nearby.
Daishi
Bipeds are an order of magnitude less efficient as a means of travel than wheels meaning you could never hope to power them with mounted solar panels like we do with the rovers today. The need to be either tethered constantly to grid power or have an extremely short battery life make them completely unsuitable for any planet other than this one.
jic
"coming in at the bottom of the field. wow" Remember, that's bottom of a field consisting of the most advanced autonomous robots in the world. It's like being the least attractive Victoria's Secret model, or the slowest sprinter at the Olympics.