NASA and contractor General Motors have officially unveiled the next-generation of space explorer, an android named Robonaut2 (R2).
After the White House decided to scrub the Constellation Program that was to return US astronauts to the Moon and pave the way for a much-anticipated manned Mars mission, many thought that NASA’s ambitious robotic programs might be scaled back too. Yet the consensus of space-watchers is that R2 confirms the visionary android space program is here to stay.
Designed by leading robotic engineers and artificial intelligence programmers, R2 pushes the envelope of smart machine technology.
Robonaut 2 has numerous embedded sensors, five-fingered hands and the ability to interface with human astronauts. NASA envisions R2 working hand in robotic hand with humans during orbital missions. The space agency plans to use the android for solitary tasks that may be deemed to dangerous for a human to undertake.
Back in 1954 a Hollywood film anticipated Robonaut2 with the release of the popular film “Tobor the Great.” The robot in that film was designed for space missions considered too dangerous for humans. Once again, life follows art.
R2is specifically engineered to join International Space Station crews in the future, although no official word has been given for the android’s first mission.
During the joint NASA-GM press conference to introduce the android astronaut, R2 wrote “Hello World! My name is Robonaut2—R2 for short. Follow my adventures here as I prepare for space!” The robot had some help from humans in composing the cheery message.
The amazing android has its origins in the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) a decade ago. R2 is the second venture into robotic space machines. When the first Robonaut was rolled out back in 2004 by DARPA it featured a rather menacing-looking head. The newly redesigned and upgraded R2 looks more like the old Japanese-inspired Power Rangers TV series. Kids are sure to find the android cool and not a bit scary.
According to NASA specs, the rakish-looking android will communicate with the people of Earth via Twitter as he (she? it?) orbits the globe in the ISS.
R2 is fully equipped with arms and legs, head and torso. When fully assembled the android weighs in at a hefty 330 pounds.
During the conference, John Olson, the director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Integration Office, told the UK Telegraph that the android 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 associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Doug Cooke added: “This cutting-edge robotics technology holds great promise, not only for NASA, but also for the nation.”
The android will be fully functional and able to use all the space tools that humans work with.
“I’m very excited about the new opportunities for human and robotic exploration these versatile robots provide across a wide range of applications,” Cooke said.
No doubt Robonaut2 will concur with his human colleagues as soon as his Twitter connection is reconnected.