The Robonaut 2 vision system was turned on for checkouts inside the station's Destiny laboratory. Credit: NASA
There's a humanoid robot moving aboard the International Space Station. Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum successfully put Robonaut 2 through its first paces involving motion on Oct. 13.
The milestone checkout had Robonaut 2 move its arm joints for the first time in microgravity. Until now, Robonaut tasks have been confined to 1G operations here on Earth, but this checkout provided the necessary insight into developing microgravity-based tasks to assist station crews. Robonaut's motions are controlled by a set of software parameters which have to be adjusted for the differences between operating on Earth and in space. Essentially, the robot has to learn how to operate in its new weightless environment.
"Robonaut performed a series of motions that allowed it to stretch out and adaptively learn the differences between its current weightless environment and on the ground, where all its testing was performed," said Nic Radford, Robonaut deputy project manager. "This successful completion now sets the stage for Robonaut to start proving out its utility for the crew."
Initiating motion in the robot required much interaction between personnel on the ground and the crew on station. Commands were initiated both from the ground and aboard the station to put the robot into motion. Fossum commanded the robot aboard the station, but in the end, the ground controllers initiated a script that put Robonaut into its stowage configuration.
Robonaut 2's arms now have been put into motion aboard the station, but its hands have yet to be tested. That checkout is planned for next month. Since the robot can impart forces on its environment when it grasps objects, sensor systems that measure these forces in the hand first need to be checked out.
In its current configuration, Robonaut 2 has a head, torso, arms and super-dexterous hands, but it does not have legs or feet. Instead, it is attached using a stanchion to hold it in place. It is about 3 feet, 4 inches (1.01 meters) tall and weighs about 330 pounds (150 kilograms).
Robonaut 2 is the first humanoid robot ever to fly in space. It was built by NASA as part of a joint project with General Motors. The goal is to build a robot helper suitable to assist humans in complex tasks, be they in space or on Earth.