Engineers from NASA and General Motors have jointly developed what they tout as "the world's most dexterous robot" called "Robonaut2" to supplement human activity both in space and in the factory.
The robot, called "R2" for short was built to replicate the appearance of a human from the waist up so that it can fit into and work in the same spaces, doing the same jobs as people do, sometimes right alongside them.
Robonaut2 is the newer sibling of Robonaut, a robot previously created by NASA and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to do the same types of tasks that human spacewalkers do. Robotnaut2 replicates a human torso, head, arms, hands and fingers. GM and NASA are examining various "mobility solutions," such as legs, for the robot, but future iterations may instead have wheels or maybe a single leg.
"We are always looking at different mobility options," said Ron Diftler, Robonaut project manager for NASA. "We are looking at a variety of lower bodies and not necessarily a conventional lower body." Robots working on the International Space Station, for example, may need to attach themselves using footholds designed for humans' feet, so they could have a single leg to fix them in that location, he said.
To get there, they could crawl along from one hand-hold to another, just as the astronauts do, Diftler said. Factory robots, in contrast, may have no need for mobility at all.
To accomplish nearly human dexterity in the hands and fingers, in a package the same size and shape as human hands and fingers, the engineers mimicked biological solutions to the problem.
"I learned a lot more about the anatomy of the hand than I ever thought I would," said Alan Taub, General Motors' vice president of research and development.
That was because it proved to be a daunting design to match. The engineers concede they can't yet top nature's work.
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