Robonaut 2: Nasa develops robot 'that looks like Top Gear's The Stig'
16 April 2010
, by Andrew Hough (Telegraph.UK)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7599810/Robonaut-2-Nasa-develops-robot-that-looks-like-Top-Gears-The-Stig.htmlA Nasa “space robot” called Robonaut 2, which bears striking resemblance to The Stig, the secretive Top Gear character, is about to join astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).
The 300-pound, human-like machine, R2 for short, is to be a permanent resident on the orbiting outpost 180 miles above Earth.
Looking like a human astronaut, the robot has a head, torso, two arms and hands and is also dressed in white with a gold helmet.
It also is strikingly similar to the character on Top Gear, the popular BBC2 show that is presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.
The machine, jointly developed by Nasa and General Motors, the American car giant, is to be launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in September.
R2's real-life limbs operate just like a human's, allowing it to use the same tools as the human crew. It will act as an assistant to the humans on board the ISS and will use the same tools developed for astronaut.
It will also be confined to quarters while engineers monitor how he operates in weightlessness.
R2 is currently undergoing vibration, vacuum and radiation testing before it is sent to the ISS.
It is a better version of the original Robonaut, which was a humanoid robot designed for space travel, that was built by Nasa and the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency a decade ago.
Nasa experts said its research could pave the way for more advanced robots, which can move freely around the space station, work with astronauts on spacewalks and even carry out tasks that are too dangerous for humans.
The team of GM engineers worked for more than three years with Nasa scientists and engineers from the Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, at the Johnson Space centre in Texas.
John Olson, director of the Nasa’s Exploration Systems Integration Office, which is based at the Space Agency’s Headquarters in Washington DC, said robots promised to act as "companions that can carry out key supporting roles”.
“This project exemplifies the promise that a future generation of robots can have both in space and on Earth, not as replacements for humans but as companions that can carry out key supporting roles,” he said.
"The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts.
“It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today."
He added: “Testing the robot inside the station will provide an important intermediate environment.”
Doug Cooke, associate administrator for Nasa’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, added: “This cutting-edge robotics technology holds great promise, not only for NASA, but also for the nation.
"I'm very excited about the new opportunities for human and robotic exploration these versatile robots provide across a wide range of applications."
For the GM, which recently filed for bankruptcy, the results could help the development of manufacturing operations.
Alan Taub, vice president of GM's global research and development, added: "The extreme levels of testing R2 has undergone as it prepares… are on par with the validation our vehicles and components go through on the path to production.
“Partnerships between organisations such as GM and NASA help ensure space exploration, road travel and manufacturing can become even safer in the future."
The Canadian Space Agency already has a humanoid robot residing at the ISS for spacewalk.
This week, Barack Obama, the US President, outlined plans to send astronauts to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s, followed by an eventual landing on the planet.
Making his case to a sceptical space community at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida this week, Mr Obama said his new space exploration plan would lead Americans beyond the moon and to Mars within his lifetime.
Robonaut 2: Nasa develops robot 'that looks like Top Gear's The Stig' 16 April 2010 (Telegraph.UK) http://tinyurl.com/y6yva68