After several long months of secrecy, NASAs Johnson Space Center has finally
unveiled the results of its latest top-secret project: ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Valkyrie One. This six-foot two
robot sports an impressive, imposing physique, weighing in at one hundred
twenty-five kilograms. It's got a head that can swivel, fully-articulated legs,
arms, and hands. It's also dressed to impress, clothed in soft material with a
humanoid design specifically tailored to look really, really cool (this is
straight from the mouth of project lead Nicolaus Radford).
Valkyrie can do most physical activities a human can do. It can walk over
uneven terrain. It can use tools, climb ladders, and look around at its
surroundings. It can even perform tasks as complex as operating a motor
vehicle. Though it's currently limited to an hour or so of operational time,
the team hopes to eventually give it complete autonomy, sending it on space
exploration missions too dangerous for human beings.
The team further hopes to take their robot to compete in the DARPA Robotics
Challenge (DRC ) in Florida on December 20. This competition is designed to
test robots capable of assisting human beings in both natural and man-made disasters,
and is, says the event website, "designed to be extremely
difficult...Technologies resulting from the DRC will transform the field of
robotics and catapult forward development of robots featuring task-level
autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in
Competition at the contest is going to be steep, and will include such
contenders as Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot (which admittedly doesn't look
quite as cool as Valkyrie). Radford seems unconcerned - and indeed, from the
looks of Valkyrie, he's got a very good reason not to be. As far as robotics
go, this thing looks downright revolutionary.
Not only is it capable of autonomous movement, locomotion, and operation,
it's got a modular design which allows it to swap out its limbs and head at
will, and it's covered in cameras and sensors that allow whatever team's operating
it full awareness of its surroundings. In short, this might be the machine that
finally unlocks the robot revolution. Plug a waste-powered heart in there, and everything's good
"When we were designing the robot, we were thinking about the
competition from day one, and we wanted a very modular system," Radford
explains. " Specifically with the arm, we can yank one bolt and one
connector, and take the arm off; it happens in a matter of minutes. We wanted
to be able to replace major components on the robot in under fifteen minutes.
The robot is designed also such that the arms are identical. if we're just
reconfiguring a piece on the arm, the right arm can actually turn into the left
Ultimately, NASA hopes to use technologies such as Valkyrie to help pave the
way for astronauts going to Mars.
"Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the
planet," said Radford. "These robots will start preparing the way for
the human explorers, and when the humans arrive, they'll start working in
conjunction. Technologies such as Valkyrie are really going to lead into the
type of robotic systems that will one day be the precursor mission for the
astronauts going to Mars."
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