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Russia to NASA: Anything You Can Do We Can Do Better

A new kind of space race is underway as the USA, Germany, and Japan strive to build robots that can help repair the International Space Station and satellites.  It was only a matter of time before Russia entered the fray, thanks to NPO-AT (Android Technology) and the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (administered by the Russian Federal Space Agency).  They’ve built a teleoperated humanoid called the SAR-400 which is the spitting image of NASA and General Motor’s Robonaut 2, and they plan to send it to the ISS within the next two years.

Like the R2 it has no legs, allowing it to be fitted to a crane on the ISS to save astronauts the trouble of stressful space walks.  The operator wears a head-mounted display, jacket, and gloves which relay movements directly to the robot’s head, arms, and hands.  However, a company rep says their gloves are the first to transmit tactile sensation from the robot to the operator.  This means a cosmonaut can operate tools and equipment more naturally, since he or she can “feel” the object in their hand.  In the case of an emergency where the robot’s hand becomes trapped, the pressure transferred to the human operator is sufficient to alert them to the problem but will not harm them.

The Russian Space Agency is testing the robot in mock training stations based on Mir, where it has already tightened screws and opened hatches.  The robot’s control is precise enough to play a game of chess, but it will take more time and testing before it will be fully operational, said Sergei Avdeyev, a cosmonaut and engineer.  “At this point it is important to synchronize the movements of the robot and the operator.  Only when the operator starts to feel he is in the frame of the robot as if in his own body, can we move on to the development of other control modes – autonomous, supervisory, etc.” said Oleg Saprykin, chief of manned space programs.

Currently it takes between 5-7 seconds for a radio signal to travel from a satellite to Earth and 15 minutes to bridge the gap to Mars, a delay which makes it impractical unless the operator is stationed nearby.  The company is optimistic that with technological progress it will become possible to teleoperate robots in space or on the moon from the comfort of home.  The company shared its results with German researchers at the first German-Russian seminar on space robotics in February.

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NPO-AT (formerly known as Android Robotics Corp) has also “flattered” Honda with an ASIMO-like bipedal robot called the AR-600.  More photos and videos follow after the break.

[source: NPO-AT project site (RU)] via [Topwar (RU)]

・SAR-400 @ Russian Wikipedia

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