GM, NASA build advanced dextrous robot

16th February 2010 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Using control, sensor and vision technologies, the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and vehicle manufacturer General Motors (GM) have build a new, advanced dextrous humanoid robot.

Robonaut2, or R2, is able to use its hands to do work beyond the scope of previously introduced humanoid robots. It surpasses previous dextrous humanoid robots in strength, yet it is considered safe enough to work side-by-side with humans.

It is able to lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dextrous robots can handle), both near and away from its body.

R2 has also been designed to use the same tools as humans, such as a drill.

A robot such as this would be able to help GM in its manufacturing plants, or assist NASA astronauts on dangerous space missions.

NASA and GM have a long history of partnering on key technologies for use in the automotive and aerospace industries, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions, which laid the foundation for today’s in-vehicle navigation systems.  

GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover vehicle, the first vehicle to be used on the moon.  

The idea of using dextrous humanoid robots – human-like robots capable of using their hands to do intricate work – is not new to the aerospace industry.

Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed for space travel, was built by the software, robotics and simulation division at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in a collaborative effort with the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency ten years ago.

Over the past decade, NASA has gained significant expertise in building robotic technologies for space applications, which have the potential to come in handy as NASA returns to the moon.

“Our challenge today is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space,” says Johnson centre director Mike Coats.

“Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, machines like Robonaut will expand our ability for construction and discovery.”

In turn, GM’s strategy is to develop assembly processes that integrate robotic technology with people.

“For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants,” says GM global research and development vice-president Alan Taub.

“When it comes to future vehicles, the advancements in controls, sensors and vision technology can be used to develop advanced vehicle safety systems. The partnership’s vision is to explore advanced robots working together in harmony with people, building better, higher quality vehicles in a safer, more competitive manufacturing environment.”