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.
"GM and NASA both share the same
vision that one day humans and robots will work together side by side and in a
safe way. We were struck with the range
of the tasks that Robonaut could do in helping astronauts, and the similarity
of those tasks to the range of assembly tasks that our people need help with. That
similarity and common ground really fostered the relationship that has
culminated in what you see demonstrated here today," says Dr. Roland
Menassa, GM's Advanced Robotics Manager in the Manufacturing Systems Research
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.
"This project exemplifies the
promise that a future generation can have robots both in space and on Earth,
not as replacements for humans but as companions that can carry out key
supporting roles," says John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems
Integration Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The combined
potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equaling more
than the parts. It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can
probably even imagine today."
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
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.
"The extreme levels of testing
R2 has undergone as it prepares to venture to the International Space Station
are on par with the validation our vehicles and components go through on the
path to production," says Alan Taub, vice president of GM's global
research and development. "The work done by GM and NASA engineers also
will help us validate manufacturing technologies that will improve the health
and safety of our GM team members at our manufacturing plants throughout the
world. Partnerships between organizations such as GM and NASA help ensure space
exploration, road travel and manufacturing can become even safer in the
George Leopold's talk at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis helped restore astronaut and engineer Gus Grissom's role in the beginnings of NASA, and outlined how Grissom played a pivotal role in winning the Space Race.
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