Will Robots Explore Mars Before Humans?


 There is a lot of talk about robots replacing human jobs, but what happens when robots replace themselves? Meet Valkyrie, NASA’s new advanced humanoid “superhero” robot that may one day be used to explore Mars ahead of humans—we are way past chimps.

Valkyrie was designed by NASA scientists to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), sizing up like Apollo Creed at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds.

“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,’” said NASA JSC’s Dexterous Robotics Lab Project Leader Nicolaus Radford.

The flexible Valkyrie has 44 degrees of axes of rotation in its joints and is powered by a battery backpack, which can keep it operating for an hour. It can walk on its own, pick up objects and manipulate objects and tools, which are part of the requirements for the DARPA challenge, according to CNET. In addition, Valkyrie’s left and right arms are interchangeable, so they can be quickly switched out or replaced in just a few minutes if damaged.

“We take our soft goods very seriously,” Radford told IEEE Spectrum. “Our robot is soft. If you brush against it while you’re working, you don’t want to feel this cold, hard metal. You want it to feel natural, like you’re working next to another human being. The soft goods, the clothes we put on the robot, give it that feel, that appearance of being more comfortable to be near.”

Valkyrie competed in the preliminary DARPA challenge, which aims to create robots that can be used in dangerous environments like nuclear spills. In the challenge, robots will be put through their paces and asked to do drive, climb a ladder, walk over uneven terrain, clear debris, break down walls and connect a fire house.

NASA uses the contest as a way to develop robots that may one day be used to explore our universe, saying the technology is “critical for long-term human space exploration.”

“We want to get to Mars. Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers, and, when humans arrive, the robots and humans will work together,” said Radford.

Click here for a list of the teams that went on to the DRC Finals.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Video credit: IEEE Spectrum

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is a seasoned entrepreneur and business executive with more than 20 years of marketing / operating experience. Previously, he was the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of RobotGalaxy, a retail entertainment brand that he founded in 2006.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. Today, RobotGalaxy’s patented toys are available nationally at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online with a growing virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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