Humanoid Robotic Development Project

Humanoid Robotic Development Project

Using leading edge control, sensor and vision technologies, NASA and GM engineers and scientists came together at NASAs Johnson Space Center to build a new dexterous humanoid robot (Robonaut2, or R2 for short) capable of working side by side with people whether that means helping GM create safer cars and safer manufacturing plants or assisting NASA astronauts on dangerous space missions.

Robonaut is a humanoid robotic development project conducted by the Dextrous Robotics Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Robonaut is a different class of robot than other current space-faring robots.

While most current space robotic systems focus on moving large objects — such as robotic arms, cranes and exploration rovers — Robonaut's tasks require more dexterity.

The core idea behind the Robonaut series is to have a humanoid machine work alongside astronauts.

Its form factor and dexterity are designed such that Robonaut can use space tools and work in similar environments to suited astronauts.

The latest Robonaut version, R2, is slated to be delivered by the Space Shuttle on mission STS-133, to the International Space Station and subsequently tested inside the ISS.

The initial design of Robonaut was for it to be used as an end-effector for the robotic arm on the International Space Station, where it could serve as an alternative to human extravehicular activity for external maintenance on the station. The first series of Robonauts (R1A and R1B) had many partners including DARPA.

Work on the first Robonaut began in 1997. The idea was to build a humanoid robot that could assist astronauts on tasks in which another pair of hands would be helpful or to venture forth to perform jobs either too dangerous for crew members to risk or too mundane for them to spend time on.

This system wouldn't need specialized tools and would be able to use the same ones the as the astronauts. The initial design of Robonaut was for it to be used as an end-effector for the robotic arm on the International Space Station, where it could serve as an alternative to human extravehicular activity for external maintenance on the station.


Robonaut is a humanoid robot designed by the Robot Systems Technology Branch at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The Robonaut project seeks to develop and demonstrate a robotic system that can function as an EVA astronaut equivalent.

Robonaut jumps generations ahead by eliminating the robotic scars (e.g., special robotic grapples and targets) and specialized robotic tools of traditional on-orbit robotics.

However, it still keeps the human operator in the control loop through its telepresence control system.

Robonaut is designed to be used for "EVA" tasks, i.e., those which were not specifically designed for robots.
TRACLabs Inc. researchers were involved in the design of Robonauts manipulators, hands, vision system and automation control software.

The latest Robonaut design is the R2, which is capable of moving its arms up to 2 m/s and has a 40 lb. payload capacity. Its hands have a grasping force of roughly 5 lbs. per finger. There are over 350 sensors in the robot. Robonaut uses telepresence and various levels of robotic autonomy.

While not all human range of motion and sensitivity has been duplicated, the robot's hand has 14 degrees of freedom and uses touch sensors at the tips of its fingers.

“The 300-pound R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 will launch on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for November, 2010.
Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness. Throughout its first decade in orbit, the space station has served as a test bed for human and robotic teamwork for construction, maintenance and science.” says a blog post at NASA.

The next generation of Robonauts was born from a partnership between the automotive company General Motors and NASA. This partnership began in 2007 using a Space Act agreement to ensure both NASA and GM were able to protect and share intellectual property rights. The public release of the partnership between NASA and GM occurred on Thursday, February 4th, 2010.

In late 2009–early 2010 a proposed mission called Project M was announced by JSC that, if approved, would have as a goal landing a R2 robot on the Moon within 1,000 days.

Robonaut 2: Your Future Coworker?

The second Robonaut series (R2A and R2B) was a joint effort between NASA and General Motors.

Other designs for Robonaut propose uses for teleoperation on planetary surfaces, where Robonaut could explore a planetary surface while receiving instructions from orbiting astronauts above.

R1 had several lower bodies, including a base with two wheels using a Segway PT. There is also an option for a base with wheels. Robonaut B was introduced in 2002.

Its likeness to Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett has been noted by some. This is because both Robonaut's and Boba Fett's designers were inspired by the appearance of the Roman centurion helmet.

Robonaut was created by Philip Strawser, Kris Verdeyen, Bill Bluethmann, and Robert O. Ambrose, employees of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Robonaut has participated in NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies field trials in the Arizona desert. With a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from NASA, the company Sensics, LLC of Baltimore, MD has further developed the visual interface of the Robonaut.

Project M Concept Animation

A concept animation of the proposed Project M. Project M is a proposed project to land an operational humanoid robot on the moon in 1000 days (M is the Roman numeral for 1000).

The humanoid will travel to the moon on a small lander fueled by green propellants, liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

It will perform a precision, autonomous landing, avoiding any hazards or obstacles on the surface.

Upon landing the robot will deploy and walk on the surface performing a multitude of tasks focused on demonstrating engineering tasks such as maintenance and construction; performing science of opportunity (i.e. using existing sensors on the robot or small science instruments); and simple student experiments.

Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the Robonaut astronaut helpers, is set to launch to the space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission.

It will be the first humanoid robot in space, and although its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.

R2, as the robot is called, will launch inside the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, which will be packed with supplies and equipment for the station and then installed permanently on the Unity node.

Once R2 is unpacked – likely several months after it arrives – it will initially be operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time both its territory and its applications could expand. There are no plans to return R2 to Earth.