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NASA: Robots are our friends

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 17, 2014
Forget the scary sci-fi movies, we'll explore space with robot companions

A six-wheeled rover, which has only been tested on Earth so far, could be used to carry astronauts or to serve as a scientific rover on another planet, like Mars, he said. With a lot of torque and an active suspension system, the robotic vehicle is able to easily climb over ridges taller than its own tires and over obstacles.

"It's a beast. It can climb vertical steps and carry more than its own weight on its back," said Ambrose. "No matter what happens, the rover will be able to get the astronauts back to the lander. That's critical, since you're trusting your life to that rover getting you back."

He also discussed Robonaut 2, also known as R2, which is a humanoid robot working on the space station.

"We wanted a robot that could safely work around people," said Ambrose. "If you're going to work side-by-side with a machine that strong, you really have to trust it.... That's what we got in the Robotnaut 2 system. An astronaut is allowed in the space of a robot with nobody watching it. Nobody is on the red button. If you want to stop the robot, you just touch it. It went through the most rigorous safety review of any robotic system I've ever seen."

If the robot senses that it's touched a human, it simply stops. This large, powerful robot has triple redundancies built in to make sure it can work beside humans and not hurt them.

That level of trust is critical to getting humans comfortable with working with robots. And that comfort is key to moving forward with human/robotic cooperation, especially in the dangerous and lonely regions of space.

"We need machines to fly, to go above 20 miles per hour," said Ambrose. "Why not use machines to explore?"


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