Robonaut 2, NASA’s robotic astronaut currently helping out on the International Space Station, has been able to run any errands for the astronauts because it doesn’t have any legs. That problem will be fixed when the Space X’s unmanned Dragon capsule, rescheduled to launch on April 18, delivers a pair to the anxiously-awaiting robot.
Robonaut 2 arrived at the ISS in February 2011. It is a highly dexterous anthropomorphic robot with advanced features like series elastic joint technology, extended finger and thumb travel, extreme neck travel, and a high resolution camera. Its human-like dexterity allows it to use the same tools as the astronauts to perform repetitive tasks such as pressing buttons, flipping switches, vacuuming and replacing air filters.
The new limbs will allow Robonaut 2 to play center on the ISS basketball team with an extended leg span of 9 feet. While its arms and hands are humanoid, these long legs have an un-human-like seven joints and no feet. Instead, they end with “end effectors” which allow it to attach to sockets and handrails in and outside the station. The effectors also have vision equipment for guidance.
Once installed, the legs will be tested in June in preparation for Robonaut 2 to begin walking around the station – weightlessly, of course. Trips outside the station won’t happen until the upper body is upgraded.
While being a gofer for the astronauts is a major task, plans for Robonaut 2 are pretty exciting. NASA has an identical robot on the ground that recently, under the control of a doctor, performed an ultrasound on a mannequin and gave it an injection. This capability could someday allow it to perform examinations and even simple surgeries in space – a kind of Robomacare.
For now, Robonaut 2 will be happy to finally be able to click its heels and kick some space alien butt.