What is a Robonaut?
A Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, Robonauts will expand the ability for construction and discovery. Central to that effort is a capability called dexterous manipulation, embodied by an ability to use one’s hand to do work, and their challenge has been to build machines with dexterity that exceeds that of a suited astronaut.
There are currently four Robonauts, with others currently in development. This allows NASA to study various types of mobility, control methods, and task applications. The value of a humanoid over other designs is the ability to use the same workspace and tools – not only does this improve efficiency in the types of tools, but also removes the need for specialized robotic connectors. Robonauts are essential to NASA’s future as we go beyond low earth orbit and continue to explore the vast wonder that is space.
Robonaut 2 or R2, launched to the International Space Station on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission, is the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, and the first US-built robot at the space station. But that was just one small step for a robot and one giant leap for robot-kind.
Initially R2 will be deployed on a fixed pedestal inside the ISS. Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the Space Station, upgrades for R2 to go outside into the vacuum of space, and then future lower bodies like legs and wheels to propel the R2 across Lunar and Martian terrain. A four wheeled rover called Centaur 2 is being evaluated at the 2010 Desert Field Test in Arizona as an example of these future lower bodies for R2.