GM Humanoid to Work at International Space Station

Honda's Asimo isn't the only technologically advanced robot built by an automaker. General Motors has been involved with the development of Robonaut 2, which is scheduled to travel to space with NASA in February 2011. Robonaut 2, a.k.a. R2, is being described by General Motors, as the strongest, fastest and most dexterous and most technologically advanced humanoid robot.

Part of the appeal of Robonaut 2, or R2, is his human-like hands. The white-suited, gold-visored, which GM developed with NASA, showed off its strength, sensitivity to touch, ability to handle flexible materials and lifelike fingers.

"R2's arms and hands have a jointed skeleton similar to a human," said Marty Linn, GM principal robotics engineer, "although the thumbs have four degrees of freedom, almost like a human." Thus, R2 can use tools with relative ease and his control systems can adjust grip based on the reaction from his fingers. GM claims R2 is adept at handling unexpected objects or tasks. For example, R2 can adapt to different grips when shaking hands with people.

R2 will work at the International Space Station helping to assemble new modules for the station or wiping down hand rails as the astronauts concentrate on other tasks. A demonstration of R2's abilities took place this morning in Detroit.

"Working with NASA's scientists and engineers we are confident we have created the most technologically advanced robot in the world," said Ken Knight, GM executive director, global manufacturing engineering.

General Motors revealed, R2 will appear for the first time today at 10:30 a.m. EST to demonstrate its abilities at the company’s technical center in Warren, Mich. The robot, which consists of a torso, arms and head, uses sensors to “see” and can perform surprisingly delicate tasks with its hands. R2’s movements often seem startlingly human.

A total of four R2 robots are working with NASA and GM. One will depart on the final mission of the space shuttle Discovery, which was delayed earlier this fall and rescheduled for early February. Others are undergoing tests and further development aimed at expanding the range of tasks they can accomplish. GM is using R2 to help develop sensors and robotics for automotive safety systems and for possible use in the auto assembly process.

NASA says R2 will be the first humanoid robot in space, and while it’s initial job will be to teach engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the agency hopes to develop the robot to the point where it could eventually work outside the station helping space walkers make repairs and other potentially hazardous assignments.

“It allows us to do work and do it safely….side by side with astronauts or with workers here on Earth,” said Marty Linn, principal engineer robotics for GM Manufacturing.

GM has partnered with NASA since the 1960s, when the auto giant made navigation systems for the Apollo missions. More recently, GM worked on the Lunar Roving Vehicle.

R2’s DNA also could be used to improve robots currently working in manufacturing operations.

Besides working in space R2’s earthly missions could be possible automotive applications include adaptive lane-changing and adaptive cruise, according to Alan Taub, GM’s vice president of global research and development.

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