What do you do after appearing in front of 106 million people at the Super Bowl? Head to the International Space Station for research. At least that’s what General Motor’s Robonaut 2 is doing.
R2 is scheduled to liftoff aboard the space shuttle Discovery this Saturday, and we hope it’s said good-bye to family and friends as it doesn’t have a return ticket. When R2 first boards the ISS, it will be put through a number of tests and go through a development phase in a near zero-gravity environment. Astronauts will study R2’s ability to perform simple tasks in the low-gravity environment and work with engineers on the ground to update R2’s software and hardware as needed throughout the development phase.
Once the testing and development is over, R2 will become the mechanical janitor of the ISS, performing menial tasks and maintenance astronauts have had to perform in the past, but are too expensive to hire for. An R2 twin will remain on the ground at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where engineers will continuously develop R2 and program it to perform new duties. Eventually, R2 may even be able to perform space walks.
While R2 may seem like a good way for GM’s engineers to have some fun and gain some publicity, it’s also a way for them to investigate robotic manufacturing to make plants safer and to build more realistic crash dummies using the sensing abilities designed by GM and NASA.