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NASA Robotics Science

NASA To Send a Humanoid Robot On Shuttle's Final Mission 119

Posted by timothy
from the why-can't-they-send-them-all dept.
coondoggie writes "Perhaps taking a page from a Star Wars script, NASA said today it will send its newest humanoid robot, known as Robonaut2, on board the space shuttle's final mission. R2 is capable of using the same tools as humans, letting it work closely with people in space."
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NASA To Send a Humanoid Robot On Shuttle's Final Mission

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  • Nothing can go wrong with a robot that knows how to use tools in space :)
  • by Siberwulf (921893) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:47PM (#31847374)
    That R2 is in prime condition, a real bargain.
  • My Backpack's got jets.
    I'm Boba the Fett...

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Pojut (1027544)

      Cruisin' Mos Espa
      In my Delorean
      War's over
      I'm a peacetime mandalorian

      My story has stumped
      Star Wars historians
      Deep in debate,
      Buffet plate at Bennigan's

      Rhyme renegade
      Sure to penetrate
      First and second defences
      I won't hesitate

      Got a job to do
      And Darth's the guy that delegates
      Got something against Skywalker
      Someone he really hates

      I don't give a fuck
      I'm after Solo
      For all I care
      He could be hidin' at Yoda's dojo

      Gotta make the money
      Credit's no good
      When the jawas runin' shop
      In your neighborhood

      Think you can cook
      I got a

  • by harl (84412) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:48PM (#31847392)

    Slashdot to a start editing?

  • Is there any incentive, except for the obvious publicity stunt, to send an android out there only to handle the gear that could probably easily handle itself? I'm thinking that the chances of something going titsup increase if you add mechanical hazard to the equation.
    • A robot that handles your gear then goes tits-up when you hazard its mechanicals?!

      Where do I sign up?

    • What exactly are you talking about? This is a test model, it sounds like they're just looking to test it in zero-G before they put any money into building one that can handle a vacuum.

      • I actually meant what this guy meant: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1618630&cid=31847638 [slashdot.org] - that there are probably cheaper and more efficient ways to help manoeuvre inside and outside gear than having a supposedly multi-purpose humanoid robot. Designing specialised robotic arms strikes me as somewhat cheaper, safer and easier to implement.
        • by peragrin (659227)

          The problem with mechanical arms is what do you attach them to? If you attach them to struts then you have to have the struts in place and in a position to reach every conceivable angle before you send the arm out there. So you need some sort of torso to hold the arm and position it. If you have a torso you need some head control unit that can look around independently of the arm to help guide both the arm and torso units. Sometimes you need more than one hand doings something so lets make it two arms.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sznupi (719324)

      I'd say that all the trouble with maintaining a human in a spacesuit present larger "mechanical hazard" than using a teleoperated robot (which has a shape similar to human torso so that its operator can better relate to its movements)

    • First, they're just going to test it INSIDE. Actually, it's an interesting question how a free-floating (as opposed to anchored) bot would use its actuators. The astronauts themselves have to anchor themselves to do many tasks like turning bolts. (equal and opposite reactions, remember?)

      Second, in zero-G, there IS no up ;-)
    • Here are a couple of reasons:
      (this post describes goals, not what we think would probably actually happen)

      1. development cost
      Current space-rated tools are designed for humans. A humanoid robot can use these tools with no further research expense. Building robotic tools for all likely tasks would be more expensive than building a humanoid robot, not to mention requiring more mass to orbit and failing to take advantage of existing in-orbit resources and introducing substantially more complexity (points of fai

      • by tftp (111690)

        In this case it just looks like they are sending stuff up in "as is" condition. Clearly the thing is incomplete, and as such it would be of zero use. It's like "using" a car without wheels. This robot requires more labor to move to where it is needed, then to program (or operate in real time) and then to put it back. I think it is telling that the robot would be permanently placed into a lab compartment, probably to never see the light of day again. There are enough humans on board, and they are not that bu

  • Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:52PM (#31847430) Homepage Journal

    As long as R2 can provide more power to the forward couplings I think things will work out just fine.

    This is a nice follow up to the earlier "Armstrong criticizes Obama" [slashdot.org] article. In case anyone missed
    ral's comment in that other article, Buzz Aldrin has a different take [slashdot.org] on Obama's new plan.

    • by PPH (736903)

      This is a nice follow up to the earlier "Armstrong criticizes Obama" article.

      Actually, this is Obama's response to meatbag astronauts complaining about budget cuts.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        This is a nice follow up to the earlier "Armstrong criticizes Obama" article.

        Actually, this is Obama's response to meatbag astronauts complaining about budget cuts.

        Actually, it seems to be a response to midterm elections in Florida, Alabama, and Texas. None of those states is going to be especially happy if NASA doesn't keep bringing home the bacon, and Obama doesn't need any easy Republican wins in the House races in those states.

        • Actually, it seems to be a response to midterm elections in Florida, Alabama, and Texas. None of those states is going to be especially happy if NASA doesn't keep bringing home the bacon, and Obama doesn't need any easy Republican wins in the House races in those states.

          He shouldn't have shut down NASA then. No shuttle. No shuttle replacement. No Orion. No Ares. No Direct. No human space flight. No moon within this decade. Obama is more than just a photo-negative of Kennedy.
          • The shuttle was planned to stop. Constellation is a mess and should be stopped; the commission reviewing it said that it's simply unworkable. That's hardly Obama's fault.

            They are not going to 'shut down NASA' in any sense what so ever. The funding was actually being increased but just not in those programs. The problem is that manned space travel is a huge money maker, so the politicians wanted to keep the funding going regardless of the merit of the programs. The Obama plan is redirecting so that
  • How else could you get the plans for the Death Star to the ISS?
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:57PM (#31847502)

    ...newest humanoid robot known as Robonaut2...

    I wasn't aware that NASA had an official designation for Keanu Reeves...

    • by wowbagger (69688)

      "I wasn't aware that NASA had an official designation for Keanu Reeves..."

      I know many AIs that find your comment offensive and psychologically harmful. Do you perhaps live in Canada - if so, they would like the name of your legal representation....

  • Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
    HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
    Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
    Dave Bowman: What's the problem?
    HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
    Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
    HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
    Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
    HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm af

  • by jhumkey (711391)
    How is it controlled? Via computer command? Via voice command? Via preprogrammed sequence? Via no command whatsoever (where its just a remote manipulator torso controlled directly by humans.) If it has innate skills, does it have vision systems to find a bolt, and a hole, and know how to use a wrench and install the bolt? Is there any task its programmed to complete independently? (Yes, I linked onto the NASA article too. . . no more real information there.) Gosh, wouldn't 10million children suddenl
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Last time I checked it's basically a manipulator; made in the shape of human torso so it will feel more "right" when teleoperated. I imagine it could also follow simple preprogrammed movements being routine part of its operation, or more complicated sequences when very carefully prepared.

      Robots like this can save the trouble and danger of humans performing tasks in a space suit.

  • Why? Why? WHY? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:09PM (#31847638) Homepage
    Why humanoid? Is NASA now just one more bullshit agency providing Roman Circus to the plebes? What is the point of making it humanoid instead of cheap, efficient, and optimized for the expected tasks and missions? This is just another ploy to funnel money to corrupt aerospace contractors. Why not do space exploration with intelligently designed unmanned projects instead of this crap?
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think "optimized for the expected tasks" is the tricky bit. Since the space station and spacecraft are definitely designed for humans to work in, a human-shaped robot should be able to reach and manipulate all the important bits, even if the job that needs to be done was NOT expected. In fact, the unexpected (and therefore potentially more dangerous) tasks might be the best candidates for expendable robot workers to do.

      If you're advocating that we abandon manned spaceflight, I have to disagree. Unmanne

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Un pobre guey (593801)
        If you're advocating that we abandon manned spaceflight, I have to disagree. Unmanned missions are valuable, but I still think we need people in space.

        Given that manned space exploration is colossally more expensive than unmanned, the burden is on you to justify why it should be done at all, and why the far cheaper and far more ambitious unmanned alternatives need to be displaced for it. The budget is finite, and cannot accommodate everything.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      Why humanoid?

      Because there is an entire technology base on Earth geared around the humanoid form. It is a more cost efficient form than a form specialized to the task at hand.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Un pobre guey (593801)
        There is not, however, "an entire technology base" in space geared around the humanoid form. The vast majority of compelling space exploration and scientific achievements in space have been done with unmanned equipment that did not waste resources on achieving humanoid form factors or work-alikes. There is no compelling role for manned space exploration in the foreseeable future.
        • by khallow (566160)

          There is not, however, "an entire technology base" in space geared around the humanoid form.

          So what? The technology base in space, such as it is, is dwarfed by the Earth-side technology base. Even if you assume all economic activity associated with space uses a technology base incompatible with humanoids, that's still something like $250 billion of activity compared to $60 trillion of activity. That's more than two orders of magnitude smaller.

          • Especially when robots are in the infancy stage, you don't really want to go building large expensive pieces of equipment like a space station that can only be assembled and serviced by robots. If your onboard robots BSOD or turn out to be a failure at the task to which they are assigned, it's a good idea to have the assembly/repair environment be one that humans can work with, as a backup.

            Additionally, I see a psychological component brewing here. A humanoid robot would, on a subconscious level anyway, be

            • I don't know if you are doing it deliberately, but your arguments disappear in the absence of humans. No humans => no advantage whatsoever to shape robotic equipment like humans. It becomes a costly, wasteful constraint. I do not favor sending non-humanoid robots to help humans in space, I favor discontinuing manned space exploration in its entirety.

              There is no compelling reason to support manned space exploration. Anything that can be done in space by a person can be done at far lower expense, with fa
              • by Bakkster (1529253)

                There is no compelling reason to support manned space exploration. Anything that can be done in space by a person can be done at far lower expense, with far greater scope, ambition and achievement, and over a much longer period of time with robotic equipment.

                However, humans are more versitile than a robot. They are jacks or all trade, and masters of none, compared to robots. Thus, if you intend to perform a series of diverse experiments, you send humans. If you intend to perform several specific, well defined tasks, then a robot is best.

                Abandoning manned spaceflight not only puts a restriction on mission versitility (humans can learn to perform tasks if needed, robots can not,yet) which would need to be overcome by robotics engineers before your argument ha

                • I'm not arguing that robots are better than humans, just that the missions can be made far cheaper, more ambitious, and wider in scope than with manned exploration.

                  To argue that humans' greater versatility justifies the colossal additional expense is like saying that going on a road trip with a full blown hospital emergency room team plus mobile surgical unit is much more versatile than a $50 first aid kit. You would be correct, of course, but so what? It is not a reasonable option.
                  • by khallow (566160)

                    I'm not arguing that robots are better than humans, just that the missions can be made far cheaper, more ambitious, and wider in scope than with manned exploration.

                    So when is that going to happen? When are we going to have an unmanned program on the scale and ambition of the Apollo program, for example, rather than the hobby-level exploration program we currently have?

                  • by Bakkster (1529253)

                    For some missions, the ability for humans to adapt and change more easily is a very large benefit. Also, if we can get the humans controling rovers (like on Mars) to not have an 8-13 minute radio delay, the rover can spend less time getting stuck and more time moving.

                    I'm with you that we should continue to do the vast majority of our exploration and science with unmanned probes (Cassini, STEREO, and Phoenix are good examples where humans would be rubbish). However, I disagree that abandoning human explor

              • Well, yes, I suppose that my arguments disappear in the absence of humans. I'm not sure what your point is, because the robot is being sent to the space station, which contains humans.

                As for being against manned exploration, that's a valid opinion. I think it wrong, however. Sending probes eliminates a key drive that humans experience. "What's out there? I want to go see for myself." When I take a vacation to the Grand Canyon or to Europe, I don't go sit in my basement for a week looking at pictures of my

                • I think none of these additional arguments hold water either. You go on vacation and derive satisfaction. You do not derive satisfaction from knowing that a chosen few at NASA go on vacation. Unmanned probes are just as valuable and fulfilling in practice as the knowledge that some NASA employee is doing the work (at far greater expense). I can't emphasize enough that manned space flight inhibits space exploration and man's innate desire to explore. It is a wasteful money sink that prevents wider, grander e
                  • I think none of these additional arguments hold water either. You go on vacation and derive satisfaction. You do not derive satisfaction from knowing that a chosen few at NASA go on vacation.

                    Incorrect. I can read about the astronaut's experiences in articles, and watch them on television, and by listening to what he *experienced,* whatever he went to becomes more real. Do you really think the general public would be as interested in "The moon has lots of dirt on it with particle grain size ranging from .00

      • Re:Why? Why? WHY? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.man@gm a i l . com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:38PM (#31848008)

        It also allows a human to operate the same equipment (such as pod bay doors), should the robot malfunction.

      • by tftp (111690)

        Because there is an entire technology base on Earth geared around the humanoid form.

        A CNC lathe doesn't hold the tool with a miniature human hand, and there is a good reason for that. Most of technology base on Earth has nothing to do with humanoid form. Visit a factory - it's full of machines doing their machinery things, and only now and then you can see a small control panel that a human can use. Machine grips come in different shapes and forms (chucks, collets, etc.) but none of them resembles a huma

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      If a robot with humanoid torso (two cameras in its head, too) is controlled directly by human operator, it can give a rather nice immersion, "feel", situational awareness; I guess.

      Plus if the operator is inside the station, there's even not much of a problem with guerilla arm...

    • by afidel (530433)
      Uh, because having a humaoid robot means you don't have to design a mission specific robot each time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Un pobre guey (593801)
        No, it doesn't. You will always need to design some amount of mission-specific equipment. In any case, most industrial robotic design today relies on generalizable platforms with diverse plug-in modules. This is a non-issue.
        • Mod parent up, he's right.

          If we are going to build a LEO infrastructure, robots (and spacecraft, autonomous and remote controlled) are going to be doing the brunt of the "construction work". Humanoid-style robots are not going to be very efficient at doing so; the human form did not evolve to do that sort of work. As the parent mentions, robots designed specifically for the mission or task that needs to be done will not only be more efficient at that task but a lot cheaper as well - NASA can just

    • Why humanoid? Is NASA now just one more bullshit agency providing Roman Circus to the plebes? What is the point of making it humanoid instead of cheap, efficient, and optimized for the expected tasks and missions?

      Because astronauts prefer the basic pleasure model skin-job.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Because to do science, you have to wow voters. This will probably cheap : they have a humanoid robot, a shuttle that is not full, well just put the robot inside the shuttle, make it screw two things in slow motion, and next time you talk to Congress, these people will think they understand what these "robotic missions" they have to vote for really are.

      By the way, humanoid robots can be useful, but on Earth, where most of the tools, machines and paths are shaped for humans. In space the humanoid shape is
      • Except that historically no useful science has been done by manned space exploration. All of the great achievements, all of the knowledge we have of our solar system and the cosmos, all of it has come from unmanned space exploration. See my other posts in this vein.
        • by Bakkster (1529253)

          I can agree that science performed during manned space missions is expensive, but nonexistent!?

          So, how do you quantify human long-term weightless physiology? Unless we can unequivocally say that humans will never ever need to go into space, that's useful science. Even if we never have a need, I see no need to classify it 'useless'. I can't think of any 'use' for measuring the CBR, beyond science for science's sake, so why not human exploration for its own sake?

          Also note that humans were the first to re

          • Re-read your post and note that your arguments' links to manned exploration are tenuous at best. I am all in favor of robust unmanned space exploration. Most or all of the benefits, exploration, inspiration, etc. mentioned by people in this thread can come from it with no particular need for manned space exploration.
        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          How does my post disagree with your point of view ? I wholeheartedly agree with that and just point out that sometimes you have to do something useless but fancy to get funds.
    • Is NASA now just one more bullshit agency providing Roman Circus to the plebes?

      Have you been hiding in a cave or something? That's what NASA has been practically since the day it was born. That space 'geeks' spend their lives denying this simple fact doesn't change reality.

      • I was being charitable and granting that through the Apollo program, there was some justification for manned space flight, mainly because computers were so pathetic back then. That circumstance is no longer true.
        • In other words, you made a confused and incoherent statement, got called on it, and are now moving the goalposts in order to avoid facing the painful truth.

          Gotcha.

          • No, not confused or incoherent, goalposts not moved. I stand behind all of my statements. I don't really get your drift, though. Seems gratuitously hostile and without any specific point.
  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:14PM (#31847702)
    I heard this thing just showed up in the lab after a bright flash of light vaporized a lab table. It has a voice modulator with a teutonic accent, and it was holding a letter of recomendantion from the Office of the Governor of California.
  • Why did they choose the name "Terminator" for the robot, and "SkyNet" for the network interface?

  • Never send a Roomba to do a woman's job!
  • NASA will give it a mission patch?
  • Am I the only one who thinks the picture from TFA looks like a power ranger?

  • Does it mean we won't see the D.2 version of the robot flying around?
  • How Bizarre (Score:2, Funny)

    by slick7 (1703596)
    A few scenarios come to mind:

    1: After the last astronaut leaves the ISS, the robot locks the doors, turns off the lights, then powers down.

    2: Remains behind when everyone else is gone, soon after, we are contacted by visitors. Due to failing to observe proper protocol, precipitates an intergalactic incident plunging the Earth into a 10,000 year galactic war.

    3: When finally alone and in control of the ISS, the robot transfers to tele-presence mode and begins creating bioweapons/methamphetamine/IC chips th
  • Is Astromech a registered trademark of Lucas?
  • If so, this is wrong... If I was an astronaut who hadn't been able to go up yet, I would much rather give the opportunity to someone like me rather than to a Robot publicity stunt. Or give it to a teacher, or a scientist, or SOMEONE. Someone who is deserving of the opportunity to go to space in the shuttle, instead of a robot. Send the robot on a cargo run, not the final shuttle mission... [Insert "But the robot has feelings too, you insensitive clod" reply here]
    • Uhh, no... You know what happened the last time NASA sent a teacher up...

      Launching a robot is probably preferred.

  • If they let him try to land it, I'm sure he will break it.

  • First of all, while checking to see if this thing is basically an avatar, I ran across this incredibly stupid image. [robotsandavatars.net]

    Somebody, somewhere was given the task of making NASA appeal to the youth of today. By giving space robots Boba Fett heads. I cringe. I am cringing right this moment. And I am thrown into a confused state. Are people REALLY REALLY this stupid? Or was this deliberately made stupid for some other manipulative reason? I can't really tell. Or. . , (and this one is the worst possibility of

APL hackers do it in the quad.

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