NASA has unveiled Valkyrie, its new humanoid super robot with distinctive female features that is expected to compete in the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, and perhaps even assist in future space missions.
The Valkyrie is a humanoid machine, which measures two inches over six feet in height, has detachable arms, mounted cameras, sonar sensors, and is mobile enough to help in search-and-rescue operations in disaster zones, NASA told IEEE Spectrum. Officially named R5, and developed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the super humanoid robot was specially designed for the DARPA competition, and will compete with Boston Dynamics’ Terminator-like Atlas robot.
“During the challenge, robots will demonstrate capabilities to execute complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments,” NASA said, in a statement, adding that the competition would see “robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.”
Valkyrie looks attractive in its near-human figure, and has superior features and high dexterity with a modular design that helps the robot move swiftly in dangerous terrain, through obstacles and maneuver things with its hands.
"We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it (you'd say) 'Wow. That's awesome,'" Nicolaus Radford of the NASA JSC Dextrous Robotics Lab says, in the video released by IEEE Spectrum on YouTube.
The battery-operated Valkyrie, which can operate without a tether, has 44 degrees of freedom, or axes of rotation in its joints, giving it flexibility of movement. The robot can tilt and swivel its head, rotate its waist, and has knees and legs that can bend. It is loaded with cameras and sonar sensors to help it move through rubble and avoid obstacles.
"When we were designing the robot, we were thinking about the competition from day one, and we wanted a very modular system. Specifically with the arm, we can yank one bolt and one connector, and we can take the arm off. It happens in a matter of minutes," Radford said.
Although NASA claims Valkyrie is gender-neutral, its features make it a “she,” Spectrum reported, pointing to its unmistakably female shape and its name, which refers to goddess-like figures in Norse mythology.
However, Valkyrie has to clear several regulatory hurdles -- with nods from DARPA and NASA -- and be developed further before she is introduced into service. NASA said, in a statement, that its super humanoids and robonauts could form a vital part of its manned space missions in the future, and the agency is testing its robots on the International Space Station.
This would mean that humanoid robots like Valkyrie could help in future missions to land humans on Mars and asteroids.
“The International Space Station serves as a test bed for future technologies that will be vital to human exploration as NASA explores asteroids and Mars” NASA said.