Space missions can be dangerous for humans. Risks include ship malfunctions and space radiation that can cause cancer. Plus, spending months up in space can be psychologically taxing for astronauts and costly for NASA.
In the distant future, NASA may instead send up something like Valkyrie, a 6-foot, 300-pound humanoid that can help astronauts perform tasks that are too dangerous.
Designed by engineers at the NASA Johnson Space Center, the robot prototype can walk, climb, balance on one foot, and navigate a room. Using its 200 sensors (including 38 on each hand) and four body cameras, it can sense surroundings in real-time.
It can also turn a valve and use a hand drill, Valkyrie’s project manager, Kris Verdeyen, tells Tech Insider.
NASA designed and built the bot’s prototype for the 2013 DARPA robotics challenge, an annual robotics competition. It was originally designed for terrestrial disaster relief work.
Since then, the team has built more and loaned them to universities, where students can program them to carry out more complex tasks. In late April, two bots were awarded to MIT and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Valkyrie’s larger purpose is to one day assist NASA astronauts on more dangerous missions. The ultimate goal is to make Valkyrie fully autonomous, Russ Tedrake, a MIT researcher who also helped program the Atlas robot, said in a statement.
Another team at University of Massachusetts Lowell will also work to integrate VR, so that humans can see what Valkyrie sees through a headset.
It isn’t the first robo-astronaut. In 2011, NASA’s Robonaut arrived at the International Space Station to help astronauts do mundane tasks, like turning valves and activate switches. And last year, a group of German researchers created a robot named Aila to do the same.
Although Valkyrie won’t be making it to Mars any time soon, it’s exciting to imagine how robots can advance plantary exploration alongside humans.
Correction: May 3, 2016. A previous version of this story reported that Valkyrie was built by MIT and plans to journey to Mars. It was designed by NASA, and there are no concrete plans to send it to space.
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