ROBONAUGHTS

September 4, 2016


OK, if you are like me, your sitting there asking yourself just what on Earth is a robonaught?  A robot is an electromechanical device used primarily to take the labor and sometimes danger from human activity.  As you well know, robotic systems have been in use for many years with each year providing systems of increasing sophistication.  An astronaut is an individual operating in outer space.  Let’s take a proper definition for ROBONAUGHT as provided by NASA.

“A Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Our challenge is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space. Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, Robonauts will expand our ability for construction and discovery. Central to that effort is a capability we call dexterous manipulation, embodied by an ability to use one’s hand to do work, and our challenge has been to build machines with dexterity that exceeds that of a suited astronaut.”

My information is derived from “NASA Tech Briefs”, Vol 40, No 7, July 2016 publication.

If you had your own personal robotic system, what would you ask that system to do?  Several options surface in my world as follows: 1.) Mow the lawn, 2.) Trim hedges, 3.) Wash my cars, 4.) Clean the gutters, 5.) Vacuum floors in our house, 6.) Wash windows, and 7.) Do the laundry.   (As you can see, I’m not really into yard work or even house work.)  Just about all of the tasks I do on a regular basis are home-grown, outdoor jobs and time-consuming.

For NASA, the International Space Station (ISS) has become a marvelous test-bed for developing the world’s most advanced robotic technology—technology that definitely represents the cutting-edge in space exploration and ground research.  The ISS now hosts a significant array of state-of-the are robotic projects including human-scale dexterous robots and free-flying robots.  (NOTE:  The vendor is Astrobee and they have developed for NASA a free-flyer robotic system consists of structure, propulsion, power, guidance, navigation and control (GN&C), command and data handling (C&DH), avionics, communications, dock mechanism, and perching arm subsystems. The Astrobee element is designed to be self-contained and capable of autonomous localization, orientation, navigation and holonomic motion as well as autonomous resupply of consumables while operating inside the USOS.)  These robotic systems are not only enabling the future of human-robot space exploration but promising extraordinary benefits for Earth-bound applications.

The initial purpose for exploring the design and fabrication of a human robotic system was to assist astronauts in completing tasks in which an additional pair or pairs of hands would be very helpful or to perform jobs either too hazardous or too mundane for crewmembers.  For this reason, the  Robonaut 2, was NASA’s first humanoid robot in space and was selected as the NASA Government Invention of the Year for 2014. Many outstanding inventions were considered for this award but Robonaut 2 was chosen after a challenging review by the NASA selection committee that evaluated the robot in the following areas: 1.) Aerospace Significance, 2.) Industry Significance, 3.) Humanitarian Significance, 4.) Technology Readiness Level, 5.) NASA Use, and 6.) Industry Use and Creativity. Robonaut 2 technologies have resulted in thirty-nine (39) issued patents, with several more under review. The NASA Invention of the Year is a first for a humanoid robot and with another in a series of firsts for Robonaut 2 that include: first robot inside a human space vehicle operating without a cage, and first robot to work with human-rated tools in space.  The R2 system developed by NASA is shown in the following JPEGs:

R2 Robotic System

R2 Robotic System(2)

R2 Robotic System(3)

 

Robonaut 2, NASA’s first humanoid robot in space, was selected as the NASA Government Invention of the Year for 2014. Many outstanding inventions were considered for this award, and Robonaut 2 was chosen after a challenging review by the NASA selection committee that evaluated the robot in the following areas: Aerospace Significance, Industry Significance, Humanitarian Significance, Technology Readiness Level, NASA Use, Industry Use and Creativity. Robonaut 2 technologies have resulted in thirty-nine (39) issued patents, with several more under review. The NASA Invention of the Year is a first for a humanoid robot and another in a series of firsts for Robonaut 2 that include: first robot inside a human space vehicle operating without a cage, and first robot to work with human-rated tools in space.

R2 first powered up for the first time in August 2011. Since that time, robotics engineers have tested R2 on ISS, completing tasks ranging from velocity air measurements to handrail cleaning—simple but necessary tasks that require a great deal of crew time.   R2 also has an on-board task of flipping switches and pushing buttons, each time controlled by space station crew members through the use of virtual reality gear. According to Steve Gaddis, “we are currently working on teaching him how to look for handrails and avoid obstacles.”

The Robonaut project has been conducting research in robotics technology on board the International Space Station (ISS) since 2012.  Recently, the original upper body humanoid robot was upgraded by the addition of two climbing manipulators (“legs”), more capable processors, and new sensors. While Robonaut 2 (R2) has been working through checkout exercises on orbit following the upgrade, technology development on the ground has continued to advance. Through the Active Reduced Gravity Offload System (ARGOS), the Robonaut team has been able to develop technologies that will enable full operation of the robotic testbed on orbit using similar robots located at the Johnson Space Center. Once these technologies have been vetted in this way, they will be implemented and tested on the R2 unit on board the ISS. The goal of this work is to create a fully-featured robotics research platform on board the ISS to increase the technology readiness level of technologies that will aid in future exploration missions.

One advantage of a humanoid design is that Robonaut can take over simple, repetitive, or especially dangerous tasks on places such as the International Space Station. Because R2 is approaching human dexterity, tasks such as changing out an air filter can be performed without modifications to the existing design.

More and more we are seeing robotic systems do the work of humans.  It is just a matter of time before we see their usage here on terra-ferma.  I mean human-type robotic systems used to serve man.  Let’s just hope we do not evolve into the “age of the machines”.  I think I may take another look at the movie Terminator.

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