Nasa's humanoid robot R5 resembles a science-fiction superhero

Universities to help Nasa prepare robots for space

Nasa has awarded two of its prototype humanoid R5 robots to universities looking to develop advanced software to give robots more autonomy in space. 

The 1.9m tall humanoid robot R5, resembling a science fiction superhero, was built by engineers at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston in 2013. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Northeastern University in Boston, will now receive one specimen each to attempt to improve the autonomy of the robots and test their performance in space-like scenarios.

Originally developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the robot is part of Nasa’s efforts to develop systems that could help astronauts during a future journey to Mars or which could even be sent to Mars instead of humans.

“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at Nasa Headquarters in Washington. “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help Nasa with this next big step in robotics technology development.”

Robots such as the R5 - which can drive a car, clean up debris and cut through walls - could be sent to Mars in a precursor mission before humans arrive and also assist and work collaboratively with human crews.

The robot was original designed to assist with disaster relief.

The two university groups were chosen from teams competing in the DARPA’s Robotics Challenge. Each team will receive up to $500,000 for a two year research project. The teams will work closely with Nasa experts and the university principal investigators will serve as critical partners in Nasa’s upcoming Space Robotics Challenge where the two R5 units will act as instruments. The challenge is part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges Program, and is divided into two competitions: a virtual competition using robotic simulations, and a physical competition using the two upgraded R5 robots.

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