There was much excitement two years ago when the astronauts on space station unpackaged Robonaut 2 (or R2), which is supposed to help with simple tasks. Trouble was, the robot was basically anchored in place and had to be moved around for different tasks. Well, that’s about to change. R2 is getting some “climbing” legs.
After the legs are brought to station and installed — likely sometime early in the new year — Robonaut will be capable of doing tasks both inside and outside (well, outside once a few more unspecified upgrades are finished). This reduces the human risks during spacewalks and frees up the astronauts to do more complicated tasks, NASA said.
“Once the legs are attached to the R2 torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of 9 feet, giving it great flexibility for movement around the space station,” NASA stated.
“Each leg has seven joints and a device on what would be the feet called an end effector, which allow the robot to take advantage of handrails and sockets inside and outside the station. A vision system for the end effectors also will be used to verify and eventually automate each limb’s approach and grasp.”
By the way, end effectors were famously used on the Canadarm series of robotic arms that were originally used for grappling satellites. Who knew back in the 1970s that this could be extended to humanoid robots?
One of his kind has finally made it to the High Frontier. The voyages of Robo Trek have begun !
Robonaut 2, or R2, was finally unleashed from his foam lined packing crate by ISS crewmembers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli on March 15 and attached to a pedestal located inside its new home in the Destiny research module. R2 joins the crew of six human residents as an official member of the ISS crew. See the video above and photos below.
The fancy shipping crate goes by the acronym SLEEPR, which stands for Structural Launch Enclosure to Effectively Protect Robonaut. R2 had been packed inside since last summer.
”Robonaut is now onboard as the newest member of our crew. We are happy to have him onboard. It’s a real good opportunity to help understand the interface of humans and robotics here in space.” said Coleman. “We want to see what Robonaut can do. Congratulations to the team of engineers [at NASA Johnson Space center] who got him ready to fly.”
Discovery blasted off for her historic final mission on Feb. 24 and made history to the end by carrying the first joint Human-Robot crew to space.
“It feels great to be out of my SLEEPR, even if I can’t stretch out just yet. I can’t wait until I get to start doing some work!” tweeted R2.
The 300-pound R2 was jointly developed in a partnership between NASA and GM at a cost of about $2.5 million. It consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. It was designed with exceptionally dexterous hands and can use the same tools as humans.
R2 will function as an astronaut’s assistant that can work shoulder to shoulder alongside humans and conduct real work, ranging from science experiments to maintenance chores. After further upgrades to accomplish tasks of growing complexity, R2 may one day venture outside the ISS to help spacewalking astronauts.
“It’s a dream come true to fly the robot to the ISS,” said Ron Diftler in an interview at the Kennedy Space Center. Diftler is the R2 project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
President Obama called the joint Discovery-ISS crew during the STS-133 mission and said he was eager to see R2 inside the ISS and urged the crew to unpack R2 as soon as possible.
“I understand you guys have a new crew member, this R2 robot,” Obama said. “I don’t know whether you guys are putting R2 to work, but he’s getting a lot of attention. That helps inspire some young people when it comes to science and technology.”
Commander Lindsey replied that R2 was still packed in the shipping crate – SLEEPR – and then joked that, “every once in a while we hear some scratching sounds from inside, maybe, you know, ‘let me out, let me out,’ we’re not sure.”
The payload for the next shuttle mission, STS-133 was on full display at Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, including the mission’s “7th” crew member – Robonaut (or R2 as he is known to his friends). A media event on Aug. 12 showcased elements that Discovery is scheduled to lift to orbit on Nov. 1, 2010 at 4:33 p.m. EDT.
Without a doubt the star of the show was R2 himself. The mostly-white android looked every bit the science-fiction meets science-fact as the imagery we have all seen on television and the internet have made him out to be. Robonaut 2 had originally been designed to only be a technology demonstrator, but engineers wanted to see how the system would operate in space and he was given a seat on the flight (albeit way in the back).
R2 was not the only horse at this rodeo however; NASA also had other flight hardware elements on display that will roar into orbit this fall. One of these was the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) that will be transported to the space station in Discovery’s payload bay (with R2 nestled inside). The PMM is in actuality the modified Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module (MPLM) and when the mission is completed the PMM will be left attached to the station.
Space Shuttle Discovery will carry Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) DragonEye (DE) relative navigation sensor on this mission. It is expected that this sensor will be installed about half a month later than originally planned due to a failure in the laser rod that was detected during testing. This item however was not on display at this event.
STS-133 could possibly be Discovery’s final flight (it has been mentioned that if there is an STS-135 – that Discovery might fly that mission). It will mark the 35th time that one of NASA’s orbiters has traveled to the orbiting laboratory. The crew consists of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott.