Developed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s Robonaut is a sophisticated humanoid work assistant that, in its initial incarnation, may be teleoperated by astronauts in orbit or by ground controllers. In the photo, astronaut Nancy J. Currie (her spacesuit is partly visible in the foreground) participates in a test at the Johnson Space Center to evaluate hand-in-hand work with robots. Robonaut is a collaborative effort with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and it has been under development at JSC for the last several years. EVA work done now typically involves two astronauts backing each other up. In the future, astronauts may team with Robonauts in squads that will work in parallel to get much more work done during the six to eight hours astronauts have in their suits.
Robonaut’s broad mix of sensors includes thermal, position, tactile, force and torque instrumentation, and it has over 150 sensors per arm. The control system for Robonaut includes an onboard, real-time CPU with miniature data acquisition and power management in a small, environmentally hardened body. Each arm sports a two-degrees-of-freedom wrist, and a five-finger, 12-degrees-of-freedom gripping hand. Robonaut’s arms are human-scale manipulators designed to fit within the exterior volume of an astronaut’s suit (the EMU). Robonaut’s head includes an articulated neck that allows the teleoperator to point Robonaut’s camera as eyes. The head’s two small color cameras deliver stereo vision to the operator’s helmet display and yield a form of depth perception. The helmet, which is designed to protect Robonaut from collisions in cluttered work environments, is made of an epoxy resin that is “grown” using a stereo lithography machine at the Johnson Space Center. Robonauts may work on the International Space Station, in remote observatories and in interplanetary transit vehicles well beyond low earth orbit. Robot thanks the Johnson Space Center for providing information and images for this article. Photos courtesy of NASA.
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