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Your Future Co-Worker

In ARTICLES AND NEWS STORIES, RELATED ARTICLES, Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm
"JSC2009-E-155300 (28 July 2009) --- Robo...

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THE GIST:

  • NASA and GM have unveiled robots that work alongside humans — on Earth and in space.
  • Engineers are trying to mimic human form and have the Robonaut work at human speeds.
  • NASA may employ the robots as spacewalkers’ assistants.




Robot twins, intended to lend a hand to spacewalking astronauts, as well as make the factory floor a safe and efficient meeting ground for humans and droids, has been unveiled by NASA and General Motors.

“A giant robot swinging around that doesn’t know whether a person is there or not is a bad thing. You can end up with all kinds of accidents. Robots can be very dangerous pieces of equipment,” Marty Linn, GM’s principal engineer of robotics, told Discovery News.

Large robots currently used in GM’s factories are caged to protect workers.

For the past three years, engineers from NASA and GM have been working on the prototypes, called Robonauts, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. GM’s droid likely will end up at the firm’s technology development center in Michigan, where engineers will use it as a test bed for sensors, software and other products that could be incorporated into future cars. It could also improve manufacturing processes.

“We envision this kind of technology to be able to be used right around humans. Both NASA and GM share this vision of humans and robots working together,” said Linn.

“This is a human-scale robot. It works at human speeds. We’re working closer and closer to the human form, and that’s a difficult challenge,” added Ron Diftler, who oversees the Robonaut project for NASA.

NASA would like to see a robot in space, with enough dexterity to handle pliable insulation and other materials too tricky for the cranes and robotic arms available on the space station today.

“We are foreseeing this as an EVA (extravehicular activity, or spacewalk) assistant,” Diftler said.

For example, the droid could save time and reduce risks to spacewalking astronauts by going outside first to prepare work sites.

The Robonauts, which were unveiled Thursday, are based on work NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency did a decade ago.

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