NASA will send humanoid robots – in a prototype form – to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern University (NU) before sending them to space.
On Tuesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that it will send two Valkyrie robots – which are 6 feet tall (1.82 metres) and weight 290 pounds (131.54 kilograms) – to Northeastern University in Boston and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for intensive development and research. The humanoids have to become advanced enough to resist in extreme environments.
Steve Jurczyk, an associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington said that advances in robotics are very much needed to develop the robots’ capabilities for their journey to Mars. The research teams at the two universities will help NASA take a step further in the development of robotics technology, Jurczyk added.
After the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster in Japan, which – NASA says – only shows how inadequate current robotic technologies are, the space agency focused its attention on developing better robots.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) from 2012 to 2015. In the competition, the teams had to get an R5 prototype that resembled Valkyrie, to walk through rubble, to scale ladders, and to turn valves. At the end of the competition, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University won.
Valkyrie robots may be used in the future for close call emergencies like the one at Fukushima, but also in extreme climates like those on the Moon or on Mars, according to NASA.
NASA granted the winning teams from Northeastern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology a prize of up to $250,000 a year for two years, to help fund their research regarding the performance of Valkyrie in extreme environments. NASA will also provide technical support.
Russ Tedrake, leader of the MIT team from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is also part of a $25 million project funded by Toyota, in which scientists are working to develop technology that allows vehicles to have spacial awareness and to navigate on their own, without any human interaction.
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