Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A step up for NASA’s robonaut: Ready for climbing legs

Date:
April 24, 2014
Source:
NASA
Summary:
Getting your "space legs" in Earth orbit has taken on new meaning for NASA's pioneering Robonaut program. Thanks to a successful launch of the SpaceX-3 flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule on Friday, April 18, the lower limbs for Robonaut 2 (R2) are aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Safely tucked inside the Dragon resupply vehicle, R2's legs are to be attached by a station crew member to Robonaut's torso already on the orbiting outpost.

NASA’s Robonaut 2 with its newly developed climbing legs, designed to give the robot mobility in zero gravity. With legs, R2 will be able to assist astronauts with both hands while keeping at least one leg anchored to the station structure at all times.
Credit: NASA

Getting your "space legs" in Earth orbit has taken on new meaning for NASA's pioneering Robonaut program.

Thanks to a successful launch of the SpaceX-3 flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule on Friday, April 18, the lower limbs for Robonaut 2 (R2) are aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Safely tucked inside the Dragon resupply vehicle, R2's legs are to be attached by a station crew member to Robonaut's torso already on the orbiting outpost.

R2's upper body arrived on the space station back in February 2011 during the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery. That event signaled the first human-like robot to arrive in space to become a permanent resident of the laboratory.

Jointly developed by NASA's Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates in cooperation with with General Motors, R2 showcases how a robotic assistant can work alongside humans, whether tasks are done in space or on Earth in a manufacturing facility.

"NASA has explored with robots for more than a decade, from the stalwart rovers on Mars to R2 on the station," observes Michael Gazarik, the associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). "Our investment in robotic technology development is helping us to bolster productivity by applying robotics technology and devices to fortify and enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety in space."

Some assembly required

The R2 now consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. With the addition of the newly developed climbing legs, the robot can augment its chief role: to help astronauts by taking over some of their duties on the space station.

But before R2 is up and running with its new limbs, there's some assembly required.

"We've got a number of upgrades we're doing," says Ron Diftler, Robonaut Project Manager within the Robotic Systems Technology Branch at the NASA Johnson Space Center. "In sending up the legs, we also have to change things inside R2's body."

That includes new computers, new wiring, mechanical assembly, and interfacing the legs to R2's main processor. "We have it all mapped out," Diftler explains.

In practice runs at NASA Johnson Space Center, reconfiguring R2 to adopt its legs has taken about 14 hours, spread out over several steps in time. "We see about 20 hours of ISS crew time to do the task, following detailed procedures and done over at least a month," Diftler adds.

Going mobile

For the Robonaut team, outfitting the torso with legs is a major milestone.

"We'll go from being the first humanoid robot in space to being the first mobile humanoid robot in space," Diftler proudly points out. "Being mobile significantly adds to our capability."

Right now, the R2's torso, head and arms are secured to a stationary base, so crew members take tasks to the robot.

But getting a literal leg-up on mobility extends the jobs R2 can perform.

"We call them the 3 D's…the dull, dangerous, and dirty," Diftler notes, those functions that free-up astronaut time to safely complete more vital work. "That's what robots are for. The astronauts are highly capable individuals that should not have to do all the tasks that require a human-like hand. The whole idea is that we want to reduce the burden on the crew in all situations," he explains.

Inside job

Think of it as one small step for robotkind.

That is, R2's legs will allow it to slowly saunter around the space station. Making use of toe-like fixtures -- called "end effectors" that take the place of feet -- R2 can use sockets and handrails to move about. With legs, the robot can lend a hand, or two, to the crew while secured to the station by at least one leg.

"The legs are very flexible. They can orient themselves in non-humanoid ways," Diftler explains, with each leg having many joints to provide that suppleness. "It's not the kind of symmetry that you have in a human," he says, but we were not trying to run a beauty contest."

Having R2 climb about inside the space station is an early test run of, eventually, having the automaton work outside the complex.

"Once we are able to go outside the station with an upgraded and more robust R2, then we can start going after some of the more mundane, perhaps dangerous jobs, and help the crew there too," Diftler says.

Stepping stones

Advancing R2's "to do" list both inside and outside the International Space Station are seen as stepping-stones.

"My goal and the goal of my division," Diftler says, "is that wherever humans go, be it an asteroid, back to the Moon, or on to Mars, we want to send a Robonaut. We want to do so either before humans go to set things up, to go with them to help as they do their exploration…or to maintain a habitat when humans aren't there."

Using the space lab as a test bed for putting muscle behind maturing the NASA R2 system paints a pathway forward, beyond low Earth orbit.

Diftler says R2's work at the ISS is more of a technology demonstration than experiment. The team's confidence level in robot building and testing is high.

"We're working out all of the issues so that future Robonauts can become ever more reliable," Diftler concludes. "This is an absolutely exciting time for NASA and for our robotic work."

For further information on Robonaut, visit: http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA. "A step up for NASA’s robonaut: Ready for climbing legs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424112027.htm>.
NASA. (2014, April 24). A step up for NASA’s robonaut: Ready for climbing legs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424112027.htm
NASA. "A step up for NASA’s robonaut: Ready for climbing legs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424112027.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins