The newest humanoid robot from NASA just might be mistaken for a superhero.
The space agency’s new Valkyrie — 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a glowing NASA logo on its chest — bears an uncanny resemblance to Marvel’s superhero Iron Man, but thisautomaton was built for work, not comic-book heroics.
A team of engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston designed and built Valkyrie (its official NASA name is R5) in just nine months, according to press reports.
The robot, developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge taking place this month, is designed to help humans during disasters. To test its capabilities, the competition will run Valkyrie through a variety of scenarios that it might encounter in extreme situations. Valkyrie will need to drive a vehicle, clean up debris, cut through a wall and perform other tasks to show that it has the right stuff.
“We want to get to Mars,” Valkyrie team leader Nicolaus Radford told IEEE Spectrum in a video about the robot. “Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers, and when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together in conjunction building[habitats], laying foundation and just working together in that tight relationship. Technologies such as Valkyrie are going to really lead into the type of robotic systems that will one day be the precursor missions before the astronauts go to Mars.”
Some team members working with Valkyrie also worked with the space agency’s Robonaut, the first humanoid robot to fly on the international space station.
While Robonaut also has a sleek look, Valkyrie seems to take it to the next level.
“We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it, you were going to be like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,” Radford said. “It’s . . . very capable, very strong, completely self-contained. We have a two-kilowatt-hour battery, lots of onboard computing.”
The 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials are set to take place Dec. 20 and 21 at a speedway in Homestead, Fla. and will feature 17 teams from around the world. According to the challenge’s Web site, the competition will require teams “to guide their robots through eight individual, physical tasks that test mobility, manipulation, dexterity, perception, and operator control mechanisms.” The finals are scheduled for late 2014, with the winning team awarded a $2 million prize.