Justin is a dexterous humanoid robot that can make coffee. Now it's learning to fix satellites.
Justin was developed at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, part of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), in Wessling, Germany.
The robot has different configurations, including one with wheels. The space version has a head, torso, and arms, but no wheels or legs, because it will be mounted on a spacecraft or satellite.
The goal is to use Justin to repair or refuel satellites that need to be serviced. Its creators say that ideally the robot would work autonomously. To replace a module or refuel, for example, you'd just press a button and the robot would do the rest.
But that's a long-term goal. For now, the researchers are relying on another approach: robotic telepresence. A human operator controls the robot from Earth, using a head-mounted display and a kind of arm exoskeleton. That way the operator can see what the robot sees and also feel the forces the robot is experiencing.
Justin's head has two cameras, used for stereoscopic vision, which means the operator can get a sense of depth when manipulating the arms. And the arms and fingers have force and torque sensors, to provide feedback to the operator, who are able to know if, say, a screw is tight.
Watch the video to see a reporter operating the robot, which, he quips, probably "costs much more than what I can earn my entire life."
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. He’s the cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.