R2 Robonaut is NASA’s Newest Space Robot Assistant

r2 robonaut
R2 Robonaut | NASA.gov Robert Markowitz.

NASA has developed the R2 robonaut as a part of the Robonaut Project. The project is designed to create a humanoid, robotic aid for astronauts that could have a variety of uses where astronauts face dangerous or repetitive tasks. The R2 will be an important part of the furture of space travel.

Introducing the R2 Robonaut Project

The R2 Robonaut is the latest design to come from NASA’s Robonaut project, and its aim is to work side-by-side with human astronauts. The bot will assist on spacewalks and go where the risks are too high for people. R2 is suited for repetitive tasks in any environment, but the main attraction of this latest design is what NASA is calling dexterous manipulation.

The term defines the ability to use one’s fine motor skills to do critical work. NASA needs a robot that exhibits fine motor control that is equal or greater than their human counterparts. Otherwise, the complex technical procedures necessary for space missions will be too complicated for robotic assistance.

The #R2Robonaut is the latest design to come from NASA's Robonaut project.Click To Tweet

With a competent robot assistant, astronauts will be able to expand their ability to explore the many and varied environments that deep-space travel can present.

A Close Look at the R2 Robonaut

The Robonaut project has been researching robotics technology on the International Space Station since 2012. Their ‘R’ series robots have undergone many changes, from the use of new processors and sensors to the introduction of legs. Their testbed, known as the Active Reduced Gravity Offload System, or ARGOS, has allowed the team to develop the full operation of their robotic projects, making sure that they can thoroughly test products like the R2 using them in actual missions.

In their bid to make a functional robotic assistant for astronauts, NASA’s robots are designed to take advantage of the humanoid form. The humanoid form allows them to perform tasks that currently require a personal touch, which will make it safer and easier for astronauts to address various aspects of space travel. This can include changing out necessary equipment on space stations or performing dangerous tasks like emergency spacewalks.

R2 may also be useful for precursor missions, where an R2 is sent somewhere to set up the tools for an investigation so that future missions will be ready to work immediately upon landing on a site.

From R1 to R2, and Beyond

R2 was designed and developed by a collaborative effort of many organizations, including NASA, General Motors, and Oceaneering Space Systems. The robot represents a vast improvement over the earlier R1 robot with speeds that can be up to four times faster and a wider range of sensory input. Most importantly, the R2 is far more dextrous than its predecessor, which makes NASA’s dream of spacefaring robotics closer to standard practice in the field of space exploration.

According to NASA, some of the advanced technology featured in the R2 includes sophisticated elastic joint technology, an optimized overlapping dual arm dexterous workspace, extended finger and thumb travel, miniaturized 6-axis load cells, redundant force sensing, ultra high-speed joint controllers, extreme neck travel, and high-resolution camera and IR systems.

The idea of a robotic astronaut comes straight out of the pages of Isaac Asimov, and with AI technology bridging the gap between machine and human intelligence, we may be facing a future where people aren’t the only ones we reserve seats for on spacecraft.

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