Robot Basics When we think of robots, we often picture an android -- a robot built in a human form. But robots come in all shapes and sizes. They may be round like a ball or built like an insect. They can be small enough to fit in your hand or as large as a school bus. No matter the shape or size, a robot is a complex, electronic machine. Humans program robots to do work. But robots can also play soccer, make music and study planets.
Work in places too dangerous for humans, such as volcanoes, areas of high radiation and environments with no oxygen
Do repetitive tasks that may bore people
Go where humans cannot go, such as small places, tight spaces or other planets
Work without stopping, becoming tired or getting distracted
Some robots are used for building and assembling objects. They are programmed to do the same job repeatedly. Other robots may be teleoperated, or controlled remotely. They can do more than one type of job. They also may be autonomous, meaning they are programmed to react to their environment and "think" about what they should do next.
NASA Robots NASA uses all types of robots. Industrial robots build materials for NASA's newest rockets. Unpiloted airplanes help NASA study ice near the Arctic Ocean, monitor the atmosphere and test hypersonic engines.
Robotic spacecraft study the moon to find the best place for humans to build a lunar outpost. They also orbit other planets. Robotic satellites study Earth from space. Rovers on Mars search for evidence of water on the Red Planet.
Space telescopes that give us dazzling views of the universe are also robots. Even the space shuttle and the International Space Station have robotic arms to help move equipment and astronauts. The space shuttle arm has two names. One name, Canadarm, references the Canadian Space Agency, which built the robotic arm. The arm is also called the Space Shuttle Robotic Manipulator System, or RMS. The International Space Station has a larger robot arm named Canadarm2 and even a robot "hand." The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or SPDM, is often called "Dextre." It is a smaller, two-armed robot capable of handling delicate space station assembly tasks
Robotic Systems Whether robots are building something on Earth or orbiting another planet, they are made of systems. The type of system that makes up the robot depends on the tasks it will perform. All robots are made of one or more systems.
To control movements and store information -- the computer "brains".
To give the robot a structure. The body is the mechanical hardware, and the shape depends on the robot's purpose.
To allow the robot to move depending on whether the robot will be in water, on land or in space
To study the robot's environment and help the robot monitor itself
To activate the robot. Robots can be powered in many ways.
To do the work that the robot was designed for. Tools are unique for the robot's task.
Robotic missions help NASA investigate environments and plan future missions prior to sending humans to uncharted territory. NASA will continue to use robots to explore places where humans cannot go.
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