NASA Ramps Up Research On ‘Humanoid Robots’ For ‘Extreme’ Unmanned Space Probes

NASA has ramped up its space research initiative aiming to launch more Humanoid Robots for designated extreme deep space probes in addition to assisting astronauts presently engaged in space. These developments would enable the space agency to undertake far more challenging unmanned space excursions with state-of-the-art robots taking the lead.

According to Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate – STMD, robots can help space crew undertake and accomplish highly complex tasks, particularly during the demanding Martian probes.

“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars.”

NASA is continuously looking to spearhead the development of new robots that could, in a matter of years, feature during the more daunting deep space probes. Its conception of the space robot or Robonaut is a case in point. The Robonaut is a dexterously programmed machine designed well enough to work outside a spacecraft even in the most testing circumstances. These advances would allow NASA to broaden the spectrum of space technology to the point where unmanned space vessels could employ robots during exploratory missions intended to explore the farthest, formidable, and more hostile elements of outer-space.

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The space agency’s idea to employ humanoid robots was duly expanded upon in its 2015 space technology research announcement.

“NASA seeks to stimulate innovation in the operations and capabilities of existing and future humanoid robots with a focus on the performance of tasks related to space exploration missions. NASA’s interests in humanoid robots derives from their latent ability to more effectively and efficiently operate equipment engineered for humans and their ability to function effectively as astronaut assistants. These NASA interests for the use of humanoid robots in extreme space environments also overlap with the potential utility of similar robots in terrestrial applications such as disaster relief.”

Robots in space are no longer the stuff of science fiction. In fact, NASA has employed a host of robotic technologies for useful space work currently under way in orbit. Many robotic technologies are already in use on the International Space Station, from cutting-edge robotic arms to more advanced humanoids assisting space crew.

Space robots can be of several types depending on their function and utility. Orbital robots are used on the International Space Station as well as on other observatories and satellites. Other types of robots include the Lunar and planetary exploration robots or rovers that are exclusively designed to tread on lunar or planetary surface. Mars’ exploration rover, Curiosity, is one example of such machines.

There are also many robots employed for support purposes in and around space vehicles, and these collaborate with space crew in performing a variety of tasks. NASA’s Robonaut 2 is one example of these. Robots are especially proficient at simple but prolonged tasks, as well the more complex ones namely construction and preservation of large space structures.

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Last year, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also announced a partnership with local companies to develop robots and other technologies that could help reinforce manned operations during missions to outer space and also perform a host of other laborious tasks independently. The agency is looking to set up a four-to six-person station on the moon as well as Mars in the next 25 years.

Last year, NASA’s very own humanoid bot Valkyrie or R5, which was originally designed for mainly support purposes, was handed over to scientists at MIT and North-eastern University to build upon its existing prototype and incorporate advanced features into it. Scientists feel these software and hardware reinforcements should enable the bot to accompany and assist manned excursions to near-earth as well as deep-space probes. They even hope the R5’s will one day replace human astronauts on far more daunting “extreme space” missions.

By no means the first humanoid robot ever to be sent into space, Valkyrie or R5 robot with its massive 6 feet tall frame is perhaps the first complete humanoid robot to stand on two human-like legs.

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