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US universities to work on NASA robot for future space missions

18 November 2015

Two research groups from MIT and Northwestern University will receive a NASA humanoid robot to test and develop for future space missions.

Six-feet tall and weighing 290 ponds, NASA's 'Valkyrie' robot will be tested and developed for future space missions (photo: NASA)

A group led by MIT's  Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot, known as 'Valkyrie' or 'R5', as part of NASA’s upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans 'extreme space' missions.

In addition to Tedrake’s team at CSAIL, NASA also awarded an R5 robot to a team led by Taskin Padir at Northeastern University.

NASA says it is interested in humanoid robots because they can help or even replace astronauts working in extreme space environments. Robots like R5 could be used in future missions either as precursor robots performing mission tasks before humans arrive or as human-assistive robots collaborating with the human crew. While R5 was initially designed to complete disaster-relief manoeuvres, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain: deep-space exploration.

“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,” says Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a NASA press release. “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development.”

YouTube video clip courtesy of IEEE Spectrum

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