What Is Robonaut?

Two Robonaut models hold tools


Robonaut can use tools designed to be used by astronauts on the space station. Image Credit: NASA

Robonaut is a NASA robot. Engineers designed Robonaut to be humanoid, which means it is built to look like a person. This makes it easier for Robonaut to do the same jobs as a person. Robonaut could help with anything from working on the International Space Station to exploring other worlds. A Robonaut is currently aboard the International Space Station.

What Does Robonaut Do?

NASA began working on the Robonaut project in 1996 and produced the first version of the robot in 2000. Since that time, engineers have continued to improve Robonaut. The newest model is called Robonaut 2, or R2. NASA and car manufacturer General Motors worked together to create R2. Robonaut has a head, torso, arms and hands like a person. Cameras in the head provide vision. Robonaut is called a dexterous robot because its hands and fingers move like a person’s. So Robonaut can perform tasks designed to be done by human hands. For example, Robonaut can use many of the same tools as an astronaut. In addition, the robot’s torso can be attached to a “bottom” so Robonaut can move around. For example, Robonaut has been tested with a set of wheels.

How Does Robonaut Work?

Robonaut can function in two ways. Software allows Robonaut to “think” for itself. The people who control R2 can give it a simple task to do, and R2 can figure out how to do it. R2’s software can be updated to allow it to do new tasks. R2 also can be operated by remote control. An operator can use a headset to see what Robonaut sees through its cameras. The operator can then use controls to make Robonaut move.

Robonaut types on a smart phone

R2 Hello World! Tweet

Robonaut sent its first tweet on July 26, 2010, with the help of its team. Image Credit: NASA

What Will Robonaut Do on the Space Station?

R2 flew to the space station on the space shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission. First, R2 will stay in the Destiny laboratory. NASA sent equipment with R2 to see how well it works. That first stage of the test will make sure that R2 works as well in space as on Earth.

What Does the Future Hold for Robonaut?

NASA is not the only group benefiting from R2. NASA’s partner, General Motors, will benefit as well. GM plans to use the technology to make cars safer. GM also hopes to use lessons learned from Robonaut to make a safer work environment.

NASA is still deciding what the future holds for Robonaut. If the test inside the space station goes well, Robonaut could someday be tested outside the space station. This testing would determine how well Robonaut could work with, or instead of, spacewalking astronauts. Robonaut’s designers even have ideas for sending a robot like Robonaut to another world someday. If testing goes well, who knows where Robonaut — or a better robot based on Robonaut — could end up?


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