MEMS and Sensors

NASA Gives Humanoid Robot to MIT to Develop Better Software for Deep Space Missions

22 November 2015

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) received a gift from NASA—a 6-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot to allow the university group to test and develop software for future space missions to Mars.

The Valkyrie. Image Credit: NASAThe Valkyrie. Image Credit: NASAThe CSAIL group, led by 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.

CSAIL was selected from groups that were entered in this year’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge and will receive up to $250,000 a year for two years from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directive.

NASA is interested in humanoid robots because they can help or even take the place of astronauts working in extreme space environments. Robots, such as NASA’s R5, could be used in future NASA missions either as precursor robots performing mission tasks before humans arrive or as human-assistive robots actively collaborating with the human crew. R5 initially was designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers; however, its main goal is 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.”

Over the past three years, Teadrake led a team of more than 20 researchers to develop algorithms for a government competition to get another 6-foot-tall humanoid robot named Atlas to open doors, turn valves, drill holes, climb stairs, scramble over cinder blocks and drive a car in just one hour.

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