Monday, March 18, 2013


Robonaut is a project intentional to create a humanoid robot which can function as an equivalent to humans during extra-vehicular activity in space such as ‘space walks’. When social experts are exploring the question of ethics and behavior of Robots, the science move further to develop robots as a good companion for human beings, who can help us in dangerous tasks.  Encyclopedia Britannica defines a robot as "any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner". The developments in the robotic science made physically anthropomorphic robots. We expected them to do, and so programmed them to do all those hazardous jobs which are dangerous for human life and health. So the frequency of ‘robots in action’ was very high in fields such as medical and automotive.  They are found to be very much useful in Space explorations also.
The current space faring robots are mainly programmed to move large objects, like a crane. But the recent innovations of scientists in NASA are giving more concentration on the formulation of robots that are more flexible and can involve skillful physical movements especially with the hands. The scientists expect them to work along-side astronauts, rather than just obeying their instructions. The appointed robonaut project has been launched by NASA in its Dextrous Robotics Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. NASA, along with many partners that include DARPA, gave life to the first series of Robonauts (R1A and R1B). Since 2007, NASA is working together with General Motors, for the next series of Robonauts- R2A and R2B.
R2 or Robonaut2, currently a prototype will be getting in its full-fledged form to be tested "in-doors" on STS-133 targeted for launch 16 September 2010 to the ISS, international space station. R2 will be the first human-like robot to space and will be a permanent resident of the International Space Station .The previous series of Robonaut was to be work as an end-effector for the robotic arm on the International Space Station. R1 was a substitute to human extravehicular activity such as external maintenance on the station. The leading edge control, sensor and vision technologies are expected to help the future robots to assist astronauts to undertake hazardous space missions. The new prototype R2 is adequate to move its arms up to 2 m/s and holds a 40 lb payload capacity. Each hands of R2 have a grasping force of around 5 lbs per finger. More than 350 numbers of sensors are used to create R2.

R2 will get provided with important intermediate environment, during its testing inside the destiny laboratory of International Space Station. The Robonaut will be subjected to undergo tests with microgravity and station's radiation and electromagnetic interference environments. The operations within the station will make R2 to perform better as a Robot who can work side-by-side with astronauts. The astronauts will be provided with enough tools to upgrade the R2 with both hardware and software while it is in the station operations. So, new tasks and new needs will become familiar for R2 with the help of astronauts. Currently R2 is going through extensive testing to make it prepare for the flight. The tests of Vibration, vacuum and radiation testing along with other procedures are also being conducted on it to make it suitable for both earth and space operations. General Motors prepares itself to use the technologies from R2 in future advanced vehicle safety systems and manufacturing plant applications.

The current prototype has a weight of 300-pounds and comprises of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 will be tested for its operations in weightlessness, once aboard the station by the astronauts. The Robonaut is confined to operate within the Destiny laboratory of the ISS. When launched, R2 will be enclosed within the station; it will get allocated with the work outside the station with future enhancements and modifications. R2 is a dream come true for science and a beginning of the future generation of robots, both in space and on earth. General Motors is planning to use R2 to build safer cars and plants. Both in earth and space, R2 will undertake roles as companions of human beings, unlike the previous robotic role as ‘replacements’. Once installed in its proper way R2 will take in charge of key supporting roles within the station.
General Motors also aims a lot on the research going on to create R2. Their expectation on R2 was evident in the words of Alan Taub, vice president of GM's global research and development, when he said "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,".  "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 future”, he added.

The comments on the project by the leaders of the company itself are witnessing the effectiveness of R2.  John Olson, director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Integration Office said today that “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. 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.”  Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate commented that
"This cutting-edge robotics technology holds great promise, not only for NASA, but also for the nation,"  As NASA and General Motors are pursuing it, let’s wait and see what miracle an R2 brings into the future of the mankind.


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