R2 ISS Update

Robonaut 2 is one step closer to earning its keep on the International Space Station.

R2 got its first taste of real work on Wednesday. The crew and ground team had completed all its initial checkouts, and Tuesday installed heat sinks in both of the robot’s forearms to allow it to better dissipate heat and work for longer periods of time.

The first humanoid robot in space was sent to the space station with the intention of eventually taking over tasks too dangerous or mundane for astronauts, and the first such task identified for it was monitoring air velocity. Astronauts onboard the space station generally have to measure the air flow in front of vents inside the station to ensure that none of the ventilation ductwork gets clogged or blocked. The task involves holding a gauge in front of vents in five different locations on the station and taking several measurements of the air flow every 90 days or so.

It’s not exactly a job that requires a rocket scientist – or astronaut – to accomplish, but there are a few things that make it difficult. For one, the gauge has to be held very steady – a challenge for a human being bobbing up and down in microgravity. And the samples can be misleading if there’s another source of air flow in the area – such as a human being’s breath.

Holding still and not breathing happen to be two areas that R2 excels in, so in some ways the robot is a natural choice for the work. Which is why Commander Dan Burbank handed the tools over to the robot (after powering it up and letting the ground controllers command it into position) on Wednesday to let it give the task a try.

The robot successfully gave the team watching from the ground two good samples taken in front of a ventilation diffuser in the Destiny Laboratory. It wasn’t able to work through the samples as quickly as an astronaut could, and without legs (which are in development on the ground) it could only take samples in one area, rather than all five. But back in Mission Control, the effort was definitely counted as a success.

“I was pretty impressed with the robot’s ability,” said Mari Forrestel, the Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems flight controller analyzing the data R2 sent down. “I think we have some tweaking to do, some fine tuning, but we are definitely looking forward to the robot helping us.”

Ron Diftler, the Robonaut 2 project manager, agreed. “We’re definitely on the right path,” he said. “Robonaut 2 had a chance to use its first tool today. This experiment is the first step in the robot relieving the crew of every dull task and, in time, giving the crew more time for science and exploration.”

What is a Robonaut?

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.

There are currently four Robonauts, with others currently in development. This allows us 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, it 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.

The project is led by the Robotics Systems Technology Branch in the Software Robotics and Simulation Division at Johnson Space Center's Engineering Directorate.

For Education focused information about Robonaut and robotics in general go to NASA Education Robotics page.

Robonaut 2

In the current iteration of Robonaut, Robonaut 2 or R2, NASA and General Motors are working together with assistance from Oceaneering Space Systems engineers to accelerate development of the next generation of robots and related technologies for use in

R2 20 pound weight, Robonaut
the automotive and aerospace industries. Robonaut 2 (R2) is a state of the art highly dexterous anthropomorphic robot. Like its predecessor Robonaut 1 (R1), R2 is capable of handling a wide range of EVA tools and interfaces, but R2 is a significant advancement over its predecessor. R2 is capable of speeds more than four times faster than R1, is more compact, is more dexterous, and includes a deeper and wider range of sensing. Advanced technology spans the entire R2 system and includes: optimized overlapping dual arm dexterous workspace, series elastic joint technology, 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 dexterity of R2 allows it to use the same tools that astronauts currently use and removes the need for specialized tools just for robots.

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.

Another way this might be beneficial is during a robotic precursor mission. R2 would bring one set of tools for the precursor mission, such as setup and geologic investigation. Not only does this improve efficiency in the types of tools, but also removes the need for specialized robotic connectors. Future missions could then supply a new set of tools and use the existing tools already on location.

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