NASAs Valkyrie One Robot Will Pave The Way To Mars
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 disaster zones."
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 to go.
"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 arm."
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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