The shuttle Discovery is back in space – the last mission for this particular orbiter and the very first mission for Robonaut 2, a machine that looks like a guy from the waist up. Unfortunately, from the waist down, this R2 looks like a high–end speaker stand. But it’s the first foray off-planet for “humanoid” robots – stationary machines built to look like people. One small step for those who can’t take one small step.
Maybe the walking attachment will be called D2.
Too bad that Robonaut 2 is being permanently installed in the International Space Station on this trip – he would make a perfect government employee for the New Wisconsin. He draws no salary and has no fringe benefits. As for health care, a little more hydraulic fluid and we’re good. If long-term disability becomes an issue, upgrades are always available, but shipping is extra because he’s not allowed to go home (he could be a Democrat in the Wisconsin Senate!). Best of all, he’s the only one of his kind so collective bargaining is a non-starter.
R2 has an uncanny ability to mimic our arm and hand motions. He’s designed to duplicate some of the fine motor tasks the astronauts do, and his purpose on this trip is to be tested in the weightless environment of space. And also to freak out the other astronauts when they look up from their work to see a golden helmeted mechanical figure waving its arms around inside the space station.
“Danger, Will Robinson!”
If I were on the trip we’d get some good data on what happens when a machine gives you a strong case of the creeps in zero G. Good thing everybody wears astronaut diapers.
But best wishes to Robonaut 2 for a safe forever flight, and condolences for Robonaut 1, who didn’t qualify for space travel and will be working this summer as an automated fortune teller on various state fair midways.
Just like human space travelers, those who fly stand on the shoulders of those who remain behind.
If they have legs, that is.
What chore would you unload on a Dexterous Human Robot?