NASA will launch the first human-like robot to space later this year to become a permanent resident of the International Space Station. Robonaut 2, or R2, was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors under a cooperative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.
The 300-lb R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 will launch on Space Shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for September. Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in zero gravity.
The dexterous robot not only looks like a human but is also designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crew members use. In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants or stand-ins for astronauts during spacewalks, or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans. For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist in the extreme temperatures outside the space station.
Testing the robot inside the station will provide an important intermediate environment. 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.
R2 is undergoing extensive testing in preparation for its flight. Vibration, vacuum and radiation testing along with other procedures being conducted on R2 also benefit the team at GM. The automaker plans to use technologies from R2 in future advanced vehicle safety systems and manufacturing plant applications.