ROBOT: Robonauts and conspiracy

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Mon Mar 19 2001 - 17:01:05 MST

Does Cyborg Conspiracy Threaten Earth?
 In coming years, you'll see astronauts go up to the ISS with
super-dexterous cyber-companions that will reduce the need for humans to
take that "small step" beyond the confines of their space ships.

Unlike smaller robots, the human-sized robots, called Robonauts, can latch
on to the station and still have two "hands" free for manipulating objects
and building the station as if it were a Tinkertoy.

Robonauts, under development by engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center,
will be controlled by astronauts inside the station using a virtual
reality interface -- they'll wear helmets and gloves wired to record their
motions and immediately transfer those intentions and actions to robots
outside the station.

"We're using a humanoid shape to meet NASA's increasing requirements for
Extravehicular Activity (EVA, or spacewalks)," NASA's Rob Ambrose said in
a prepared statement. Ambrose is heading up the Robonaut project.

Doing it better

The two-armed, two five-fingered Robonauts come with a head and torso.
Demonstrations in NASA's "Vomit Comet" weightlessness simulator have
showed a Robonaut neatly catching a fly ball with finesse that might have
impressed Joe DiMaggio.

Ever since the dawn of space exploration, hardware has been built so that
humans could service it. But advances in robotics and the telepresence
conferred by virtual reality have made it so spacewalking humans are no
longer a requirement, Ambrose said.

"While the depth and breadth of human performance is beyond the current
state of the art in robotics," he said, "NASA targeted the reduced
dexterity and performance of a suited astronaut as Robonaut's design
goals, specifically using the work envelope, ranges of motion, strength
and endurance capabilities of spacewalking humans."

--J. R.

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