Space exploration will to be changed forever following yesterday’s events, as NASA gives humanoid robots to two universities for research purposes.
The 6-foot tall robot weighs 290 pounds and is referred to as either ‘Valkyrie’ or ‘R5’. It was initially designed to help in case of disasters, being able to complete a number of disaster-relief maneuvers. However, its focus has been reoriented, now being that of space exploration.
One of the groups that were awarded the Valkyrie is based at MIT. Russ Tedrake and his team of engineers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) entered the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge.
The other group consists of Taskin Padir and his team, and is also based in Massachusetts, but at the Northeastern University.
Winning the extensive process of selection allowed the teams of researchers to receive the robot, along with 250.000$ a year, as well as technical support and assistance from NASA.
The DARPA challenge will consist of seeing which of the two groups will prove more successful in their endeavor of developing new software to use in future space exploration. The two teams will compete in two challenges, the goal of which will be the research and development of new software as well as upgrading the current hardware in order to improve the autonomy of the two R5 robots.
The competition will consist of two challenges – a physical challenge that will use the two upgraded units and a virtual challenge that will use computer simulations of the two robots.
This initiative started as a way to improve safety for human participants in deep space exploration missions. The robots are going to be used both as assistants to a human crew, and as individual units that will prepare a location for the arrival of the human exploration party.
Steve Jurczyk, the associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA, says that the Valkyrie units are already vital to developing the capabilities needed for the upcoming mission to Mars. He also states that human-robotic collaboration is inevitable in the future of space travel.
Another member of NASA, Johnson Space Center’s Robert Ambrose also commented on the issue, saying that a robot is more dispensable than a human being, so in case of potential danger, the machine can be sent in without risking any human lives.
What do you think about this NASA-MIT collaboration? How about the prospect of robot-assisted space travel? And above all, do space robots dream of electric space sheep? Or just regular sheep?
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