While we patiently await news of how recent Japanese International Space Station arrival Koichi Wakata is getting along with talking-robot Kirobo on board the habitable satellite, NASA has been showing off the latest developments with its own Robonaut humanoid.
Robonaut, in case you weren’t aware, is a highly dexterous robot-astronaut that since 2011 has been helping on the ISS with various tests and tasks. He even finds time to send out the occasional tweet.
Unfortunately for Robonaut, his movement is severely restricted by the fact that he currently sits atop a fixed pedestal. However, that’s all set to change, as the humanoid, the result of a NASA collaboration with General Motors, is about to get its first pair of fully functioning legs. And they’re massive.
Once fixed up, Robonaut will be strolling around the space station at eight-feet tall, and possibly banging his head a lot as he goes.
Currently based on terra firma, astronaut Cady Coleman, who first set up Robonaut on the ISS two years ago, told ABC News recently she could now see a lot more potential for robots in space.
Adding legs to Robonaut means he’ll be able to make his way around the space station independently and in a more controlled manner, as well as have the ability to move across lunar and Martian terrain, though such planet-exploring missions are thought to be some way off.
Engineers will have to be confident Robonaut’s legs are in perfect working order before sending him to the ISS. “His legs are going to be really, really long,” Coleman says. “He has to be able to stretch through the hatches on the space station between modules. He is going to walk more like an antelope than take little steps.”
It’s hoped that a fully developed Robonaut will one day be able to assist astronauts with challenging or dangerous tasks regardless of environmental conditions.
There are actually four Robonauts in operation, with one on the ISS. If NASA has a basketball team in an inter-company league, it might want to consider getting the three on the ground involved once those legs are attached.