This morning, NASA and General Motors unveiled Robonaut 2, aka R2, which is a weird name considering it looks nothing like the real R2. Robonaut 2 was designed to assist both astronauts and auto workers. It has no legs. More details and video after the jump.
From Popular Mechanics:
"We had a common agenda with NASA," says Allen Taub, vice president of global research and development at GM. "They wanted to make a robot that could work next to an astronaut," he says. "The question we wanted to answer was, 'How do I make a robot so it can work with operators, without all of the safety precautions and cages?'" As they go through their automated routines, industrial assembly bots are inherently dangerous to be around. And according to Taub, installing cages and other safety measures often costs more than the robot itself. "This robot can be going through its paces, and if you just hold your hand up, it hits your hand and stops," he says..."NASA and GM Create Cutting Edge Robotic Technology" (PopSci)
GM's goal in co-developing R2 is to eventually install similar systems in its plants, performing the kind of repetitive, ergonomically difficult jobs that might injure a human operator. Vision sensors in the robot's head, as well as pressure sensors in its fingers, allow it to manipulate parts with near-human precision. The biggest upgrades from the original Robonaut are R2's thumb, which now have four degrees of freedom (as opposed to three), and its overall speed, which have improved by a factor of four. One result of all of this engineering is the kind of breakthrough only a roboticist would swoon over: R2 can use both hands to work with a piece of flexible material. If that sounds simple, consider the amount of sensory data, cognitive processing and physical dexterity needed to manipulate something that flows and bends in your fingers.