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Robonaut 2: NASA’s Other Robot Personality


Robonaut 2, Curiosity's International Space Station robotic sibling. Photo Credit/NASA photo

Before there was Curiosity, there was Robonaut 2.

This week, R2, the humaniod collaboration between NASA and General Motors achieved an important milestone in its 18 months aboard the International Space Station.

On Tuesday, R-2 wiped a handrail with a hand cloth.

“I successfully cleaned the handrail!,” proclaimed R2 by Twitter. Like Curiosity, the six-wheeled rover that reached Gale Crater on Mars early on Aug. 6, R2 uses Social Media to keep its followers up-to-date.

R2, whose left hand is in view in the foreground, cleans a space station handrail. Astronaut Suni Williams, in the background, snaps a photo. Photo Credit/NASA via Facebook

The two-armed humanoid toiled away under the oversight of NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, rather than one of the half-dozen astronauts aboard the station. That is an important part of R2′s long running mission — to develop techniques for safe human-robot interactions both in space and back on Earth on the production floor.

Ultimately, NASA would like R-2 to take over some of the house cleaning chores in the roomy space station, freeing astronauts to spend more time on science experiments and engineering demonstrations. But one day, a tool wielding R2 is likely to join spacewalking astronauts outside the space station assisting them with a repair task. Then, looking to the future, an R2 descendant may join a successor to Curiosity as well as astronauts on a planetary surface.

This week, though, the legless Curiosity was positioned before a task board in the station’s Destiny science module. The board has a range of knobs, switches and other hardware usually manipulated by astronauts.

That’s where it grabbed a cloth and wiped down the handrail.

The first attempt took a couple hours and was not all that smooth as flight controllers required several attempts to adjust R2′s grip.

“Team is fine tuning my finger positions so that i get an accurate grasp of the soft material,” R2 updated by Facebook.

By the end of the operation, R2 was clearly pleased and looking to the future.

Rosie, left, kept house for the Jetsons. Photo credit/Wikipedia

“The Jetsons had it wrong, being Rosie is just one of the many things I can do! That’s all for today,” R2 tweeted. “Powering down.”

Rosie starred as elderly robotic cleaning lady in The Jetsons, a  popular animated Hanna-Barbera television series that appeared on network television in 1962-63 and 1985-87.

R2 was delivered to the space station aboard the shuttle Discovery in February 2011.


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