The lower limbs for the humanoid Robonaut 2 (R2) are aboard the International Space Station (ISS) awaiting attachment by a station crewmember to R2’s torso, which arrived on the ISS in February 2011 during the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery. That event signaled the first human-like robot to arrive in space to become a permanent resident of the laboratory. Jointly developed by NASA and General Motors, R2 showcases how a robotic assistant can work alongside humans, whether tasks are done in space or on Earth in a manufacturing facility.
R2 now consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. With the addition of the climbing legs, the robot can augment its chief role: to help astronauts by taking over some of their duties on the space station. But before R2 is up and running with its new limbs, there’s some assembly required.
“We’ve got a number of upgrades we’re doing,” said Ron Diftler, Robonaut Project Manager at NASA Johnson Space Center. “In sending up the legs, we also have to change things inside R2’s body.” That includes new computers, new wiring, mechanical assembly, and interfacing the legs to R2’s main processor. “We see about 20 hours of ISS crew time to do the task, following detailed procedures and done over at least a month,” Diftler said.
Right now, R2’s torso, head, and arms are secured to a stationary base, so crewmembers take tasks to the robot. But getting a “leg up” on mobility extends the jobs R2 can perform. “We call them the 3 Ds: the dull, dangerous, and dirty,” Diftler noted. “That’s what robots are for. The astronauts are highly capable individuals that should not have to do all the tasks that require a human-like hand.”