It’s a staple of science fiction, and for good reason — robots can come in handy when you’re exploring the dangerous recesses of space. So meet the humanoid robot NASA wants to send along with future astronauts.
The U.S. space agency is hosting a competition to help program its Robonaut 5 (aka Valkyrie) robot to complete a series of complicated tasks (like the ones it might be called upon to tackle on a mission), to prep the tech for potential use on future Mars missions. If you can manage to make the Robonaut 5 a useful member of the team, you can bring home a cool $1 million prize.
The Robonaut 5 is NASA’s first bipedal humanoid robot. The latest model weighs 300 pounds and stands 6 feet and 2 inches tall. His arms feature seven joints, while his legs have five, given him solid mobility for a robot. His “face” includes a perceptual sensor in the form of the Carnegie Robotics Multisense SL, with modifications to allow for IR structured light point cloud generation. He also has “hazard cameras” to avoid collisions, much like the Buick sitting in your garage.
“Precise and dexterous robotics, able to work with a communications delay, could be used in spaceflight and ground missions to Mars and elsewhere for hazardous and complicated tasks, which will be crucial to support our astronauts,” Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, said in a statement. “NASA and our partners are confident the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”
NASA notes that hydraulics have been used to simulate dexterity for Earth-bound robots, but that tech isn’t really viable when you’re trying to work in sub-zero temperatures on the harsh environment of an alien world. So the Robonaut 5 uses a technique called “elastics,” which should make it more resilient to the conditions it might encounter out there. The training competition will task contestants with programming a virtual Robonaut 5 to execute repairs on a Martian habitat in the wake of a dust storm (a situation that could prove especially harsh and dangerous for a human).
So future astronauts take note: This robot might just be your best pal when we finally launch off for the Red Planet.