NASA unveils latest robot

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Friday, February 05, 2010

NASA and GM extend their dexterous, robotic hands to the future! NASA photo
Given that we have no flying cars, laser guns, or even time machines (1985-era technology!), it’s easy to forget sometimes that we’re living in the future. But, once again, NASA’s done its job and reminded us just what century we live in.

On Thursday, NASA announced the next iteration of its brand of robots, built and designed with cooperation from GM. Their press release doesn’t focus merely on the fact that we now have reasonably sophisticated humanoid robots that can use their hands; it also emphasizes how advanced this new type of robot is over older models.

“Robonaut 2, or R2, is a faster, more dexterous, and more technologically advanced robot,” the press release declares. Even the name seems designed to evoke sci-fi, futuristic images of cute, snarky robots.

The rest of the announcement raves about how well R2 can work alongside people or on missions too dangerous for humans. “This new-generation robot can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines,” the release gushes. Just what kinds of work this may be everyone seems reticent to share, beyond vague mentions of assisting astronauts and helping GM build safer cars.

Safety actually comes up a lot, presumably to reassure us of both the necessity of these tough robots and the relative unlikelihood of their turning into evil, terminating machines. Of course, the original Robonaut’s been around 10 years or so, and there’s been no uprising so far.

So, when you’re despondent about how we haven’t been to the Moon in almost 40 years (and are unlikely to return for at least another 20), or you wish that Mr. Fusion would hurry up and get himself invented, remember R2. If nothing else, NASA does try hard to make some of our science-fiction dreams come true, even if they’re not our top choices.

What do you think of R2? An awesome development and good news for science? Or, meh, another robot?

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