If one thing has been learned in the last half century, it’s that sending astronauts into the harsh, unforgiving environment of space is both dangerous and expensive. To find a way to minimize risk and cost, NASA is sending a pair of prototype humanoid robots back to school. The space agency is giving two R5 “Valkyrie” robots to university groups at MIT and Northeastern University for advanced research and development of robotic astronauts that could act as vanguards for manned missions or as assistants for humans traveling to Mars.
NASA selected the two universities from a competition between university groups that participated in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The winners are the Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments program at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and the Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge at Northeastern University in Boston. Each will receive one of the R5 robots.
Standing 6 ft (1.9 m) high and weighing 290 lb (125 kg), the formidable-looking humanoid R5 was built by NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the University of Texas and Texas A&M.
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