Just like a human doing “The Robot” is funny, so too is a robot doing “The Human”. This video, created by SPACE.com, was edited together to showcase the wide range of motion of NASA’s newest humanoid robot, Robonaut 2. Having similar dexterity to a human, NASA hopes Robonaut 2 will eventually take over certain space station duties currently performed by astronauts, such as exterior maintenance and periodic party clean up. Presumably they’re also responsible for walking the space dogs. (Those dogs the Soviets sent up in the ’50s are still alive up there, right? Right? Guys? Laika!?)
The idea behind Robonaut 2 (also called “R2”) having a largely human form is that it can eventually be programmed to use all the EVA tools and interfaces that have been designed around human astronauts. This eliminates the need to build special versions of tools designed specifically for the robot. Like most of you, the name “R2” leads me to believe that it could also service a damaged X-Wing if necessary.
Having an impressive level of dexterity and maneuverability, Robonaut 2 is designed as more of a robotic co-worker for the human astronauts than a single-function machine. (NASA)
The video is a little misleading, since a) I saw R2 dance at a wedding and he’s not actually that smooth, and b) the torso and head you see are not actually headed to space with the legs. The upper body intended for the legs is actually already at the International Space Station. The top half of R2 has been performing operations at the space station since it was dropped off in 2011. The torso and head have been working from a stationary position until now, but once its legs are delivered, R2 is expected to be able to move freely throughout the space station.
Attached to a model torso for the purposes of demonstration, the legs seen in the video are the only piece actually headed to space. (NASA)
Though based on human form, you’ll notice that R2’s legs have a much wider range of motion than our own. The robot has seven pairs of knee joints, each of which can twist and turn in every direction. When fully extended, R2 boasts a 9 foot leg span and has “end effectors” instead of feet, which allow it to grasp handrails in the space station’s interior.
Is R2 only the first of many Robonauts in space? Could a Robonaut’s functionality ever eclipse that of a human astronaut? Could we ever get R2 to do the moon walk on the actual moon? Speculate below.