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NASA and GM Develop Dexterous Humanoid Robonaut2

The robot was designed with dexterous hands capable of using the same tools as humans do

2 min read
NASA and GM Develop Dexterous Humanoid Robonaut2

robonaut2 nasa gm r2

NASA and General Motors have unveiled a humanoid robot called Robonaut2, or R2, that they say will be able to "assist astronauts during hazardous space missions and help GM build safer cars and plants."


The robot was designed with dexterous hands capable of using the same tools as humans do. NASA and GM boast that the robot "surpasses previous dexterous humanoid robots in strength," being able to lift a 9-kilogram weight (20 pounds) with its arms extended, but details are sketchy.

The R2 is based on the original Robonaut created by NASA and Darpa a decade ago [see photo, right]. It was a fairly advanced android for its time, but it never travel to space.

UPDATE: Popular Mechanics has more technical details and specs:

The biggest upgrades from the original Robonaut are R2's thumb, which now have four degrees of freedom (as opposed to three), and its overall speed, which have improved by a factor of four. One result of all of this engineering is the kind of breakthrough only a roboticist would swoon over: R2 can use both hands to work with a piece of flexible material. If that sounds simple, consider the amount of sensory data, cognitive processing and physical dexterity needed to manipulate something that flows and bends in your fingers. In the series of baby steps that comprises robotics, R2 is leaping.

Still, the two existing R2 prototypes are still essentially legless—GM has no need for a bipedal robot awkwardly swaying through its plants, and NASA plans to fit the robot with at least as many mobility platforms as its predecessor. R2's lower half is intended to be modular, and so is its redesigned head, which could fit a variety of sensor suites, depending on the mission or environment. Of course, until the agency's budget is sorted out, [Robonaut2 project manager Myron Diftler] can't confirm what those missions will be, or when the robot could be deployed. Which means the robot, or some version of it, is more likely to show up in a GM plant before leaving the planet.

See the new Robonaut2 in action in the video below:

[youtube expand=1]

Photos and videos: NASA

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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