Monday, March 28, 2011

New details about Robonaut2

From left: R2A, Ronald Diffler, Marty Linn and R2B
In a March 22 presentation at Automate 2011 in Chicago, the NASA and GM Team Leaders provided new details about Robonaut2 A and B, called R2A and R2B, the two products of their four-year collaboration.

Marty Linn, from GM, talked about the flexibility and quality that R2 will bring to GM's manufacturing lines. R2 will complement and support humans just as they will help the crew in the space station. It's designed to do work and will assist with ergonomically difficult tasks.

Ronald Diffler, the NASA project leader, displayed R2's hand dexterity, fine motion with tendon-like tensioning, and with a patented tactile system enabling haptic understanding of objects. R2s arms have springs for softness and stiffness control thereby enabling R2 to be safe around humans. Further, R2 has a 2-joint neck so that it can see fully down and around.

R2A watching launch of R2B
R2 has applied for 44 patents. Computing power and sensors are many years old because NASA requires the boards to be certified and other safety and bureaucratic delays.  The actual flight of R2B to the space station was delayed for many months.  But R2B is there, in the station now and R2A was there to see it launched.

GM will upgrade their new R2-like robots, which they intend to farm out to a robotics manufacturer, a "development partner," with the latest chips, cameras and sensors.

Linn, in an interview following the presentation, said that the real value of R2 for GM is the flexibility of the hands and lower arm springs. Motoman's two-armed robot lacks end-of-arm flexibility and sensors and arm tensioning thereby making it not flexible or safe enough to work side by side with humans as is the plan with R2 and GM.

A full body training suit was designed for simulation and training. An astronaut dons the suit and records his movements doing a task.  R2 can then repeat the task and, if necessary, a programmer can enhance the recorded movements.  Linn said that this simulation and training feature will be a valuable tool to help GM jumpstart the usual extended time for initial programming and safety simulation.