Humanoid robot to perform maintenance tasks onboard International Space Station

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NASA's Robonaut (R2), a dexterous humanoid robot, has been launched up to the International Space Station (ISS) on 24 February 2011.

Built in partnership with General Motors (GM) and the Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, R2 is a fully modular, highly dexterous 300 pound robot that consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. It is designed to work alongside humans and execute simple, repetitive or dangerous tasks on Earth or on board the ISS.

R2's many technological improvements over R1 include an improved range of sensors that features two Prosilica GC2450 colour cameras from Allied Vision Technologies and an infrared time-of-flight (TOF) camera. Capable of speeds more than four times faster than R1, R2 features a total of 350 sensors (for tactile, force, position, range-finding and vision sensing) and 38 power PC processors enabling it to perform functions such as object recognition and manipulation. R2 is also able to react to its surroundings and operate semi-autonomously.

Capable of 42 degrees of freedom (including 24 in its hands and fingers alone) R2's dexterity allows it to use the same tools as astronauts removing the need for robot specific tools.

R2's vision equipment is housed inside its helmet. The system uses colour, pixel intensity and texture based segmentation as well as advanced pattern recognition techniques to extract the necessary information. To simplify the procedure the system focuses on certain areas of the image using region of interests (ROI).

In addition, the TOF sensor data allows the background to be removed in order to focus on the object of interest (tools, boxes, etc). Built-in classification techniques within the software are used to perform 3D and pattern-recognition functions in real-time to allow R2 to compute feasible trajectories and decide where to place its hands to execute a set of pre-determined tasks, such as opening boxes autonomously.

The software used by the system is MVtec's Halcon 9.0. MVtec is an AVT software partner.

R2 will initially be hard-mounted and stationed in the Destiny laboratory on board the ISS where it will be monitored while executing tasks and operations similar to those performed on Earth.

If successful R2 could move on to stage 2 of the mission and become mobile to perform station maintenance tasks such as vacuuming or cleaning filters. The ultimate goal is to send R2 outside the ISS to perform dangerous EVA (extra-vehicular activity) tasks during stage 3.

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