NASA reports that Robonaut 2 began work aboard the International Space Station in mid-March of this year after being given the go-ahead by the crew and ground team. Its assigned task: to check the air flow coming from vents inside the station. This particular job is normally done by the astronauts once every 90 days to ensure the vents haven’t gotten clogged. According to NASA the measurements are sometimes difficult to obtain due to the zero gravity, and because an astronaut’s breath can affect the results.
Recently they published a video of the robot autonomously operating a control panel. It has to recognize the panel’s array of buttons and switches and know how (and when) to interact with each of them. The robot’s forearms have also been modified aboard the station with added heat sinks to allow it to perform longer. These are small but important steps towards the realization of a robot that can perform tasks outside the comfort of the station.
[source: NASA] via [Robots Dreams] via [Engadget]
Back in 2010 DARPA announced the ARM (Autonomous Robotic Manipulation) Program, which has the ambitious goal of solving a number of complex grasping and manipulation challenges. Plastic Pals was one of the first websites to report on this program (read more about ARM’s objectives in our original article here).
The four year program has entered its second phase, having moved from a single-armed robot to a dual-armed version built by RE2 using components by Barrett (7-DOF WAM arms, force-torque sensors in its wrists, and three-fingered hands with pressure sensitivity). The ARM Robot (affectionately called “Robbie” despite the popularity of “Oliver” in an online vote) has a face only a mother could love, containing a BumbleBee2 stereo camera, a Prosilica high resolution camera, an SR4000 Swiss Ranger infrared camera, and microphones.
Its next task will be to change a tire on a small car; whether that means a Mini Cooper or some sort of scale model is unclear. By the end of the program, DARPA hopes the robot will be capable of executing these sorts of tasks autonomously with humans verbally commanding the robot to do what they want. In the original program brief, actions included the unpinning and tossing of a grenade, so things are bound to get exciting. Whether or not DARPA plans to combine these results with those of their other humanoid robotics challenge (which has a similar deadline) is still unknown.
Currently the robot appears to rely on special markers to find and recognize objects, but in the future it won’t have such conveniences. For now, it seems the ARM robot still lags behind other robots as it reinvents the wheel. Take, for example, the similarly named ARMAR-III (developed at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany), which is able to find and grasp a wide assortment of household objects inside of a mock kitchen. It analyzes and solves complex manipulation tasks (e.g. loading and unloading a dishwasher) using its OpenGrasp software toolkit. And unlike the stationary Robbie with its gangly Barrett components, ARMAR-III is fully mobile and has more human-like proportions and hands.
Watch IEEE Spectrum get up close and personal with Robbie in the following video:
[source: ARM Project] via [IEEE Spectrum]