A humanoid robot will visit space for the first time in September aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, NASA announced Wednesday.
The Robonaut 2, which was co-developed by NASA with General Motors, will serve as an assistant to the humans on board the International Space Station, using the same tools developed for astronauts.
While plain old robots, such as the Mars Phoenix Lander, are a major part of NASA’s operations, humanoid robots are a different story. There is significant science-fiction appeal to the idea of humanoid robotic helpers for humans, but does the idea makes more than literary sense? Yes, said Jeffrey Hoffman, an MIT aerospace professor and former astronaut.
“I’m a very strong believer in human-robotic interaction. You can build up a synergy to accomplish what neither humans nor robots could accomplish on their own,” Hoffman said. “That’s the inspiration behind Robonaut.”
Many successful robots, like Kiva’s product-distribution robots or the military’s little helpers look nothing like humans. And some space researchers like MIT historian and policy analyst David Mindell don’t think humanoid robots are a very good idea. But the International Space Station may be the perfect place for a humanoid robot.
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