The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) now has a humanoid robot aboard the International Space Station and it is equipped with the capability to work with astronauts during spacewalks.
The robot named Robonaut 2 is the first dexterous humanoid robot to be brought in space. It was also chosen as the 2014 NASA Invention of the Year being selected from many other innovations by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, the NASA Invention and Contributions Board, and the NASA General Counsel.
Technologies that came as a result of R2 include a robotic exoskeleton, a robotic glove and telemedicine applications. The robot's technology has also paved way to 39 issued patents and several more are still currently being reviewed. The robot, which was built by the U.S. space agency and General Motors, also has the ability to take selfies.
"I am proud of the entire Robonaut team that made this achievement possible and look forward to future robotic firsts that I have no doubt they will accomplish," said Ron Diftler, Robonaut project manager, from NASA's Johnson Space Center.
While R2 resides aboard the laboratory in low-Earth orbit, many of the technologies developed for it were actually adapted for use on Earth. Astronauts are also testing the robot to see if it could do medical tasks in space while being guided by doctors' hands down on Earth.
NASA said that one advantage of the robot's humanoid design is that it can conduct repetitive, simple and dangerous tasks on such places as the ISS.
"Our challenge is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space," NASA said. "Robonauts will expand our ability for construction and discovery. Central to that effort is a capability we call dexterous manipulation, embodied by an ability to use one's hand to do work, and our challenge has been to build machines with dexterity that exceeds that of a suited astronaut."
The Robonaut program started in 1997 when scientists were optimistic that they could test a robot in space in 2005. The realization of this dream came a bit late but in 2011, Robonaut 2 joined the astronauts that were bounds for the space station.
NASA said that it wants the robot to free up astronauts from doing certain tasks so they could spend more time on research and more important works while onboard the ISS, an idea reminiscent of the fictional robots in sci-fi movies.
NASA Robonaut | Flickr