Meet Valkyrie, a six foot two inch next-generation humanoid robot capable of performing tasks such as walking over uneven terrain, climbing a ladder, using tools, and driving. Because Valkyrie had to be able to operate in the same spaces as a person, the team chose to base the robot on a human form.
The 20 stone robot, which is ‘clothed’ in soft material, has a head that can tilt and swivel, a waist that can rotate, as well as articulated legs and arms and hands that each feature three fingers and a thumb. Finally, a glowing NASA logo on its chest gives the imposing humanoid more than a passing resemblance to Marvel’s superhero Iron Man.
Although the ultimate goal for Valkyrie is to be as autonomous as possible, his activity is currently limited to about an hour, powered by a battery in his backpack.
The robot will be competing against other humanoids, including the Atlas robot, in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) in Florida on December 20. The leading entries will meet again in a final in 2014, with the winner being awarded a $2 million prize.
“We want to get to Mars,” the team leader for Valkyrie, Nicolaus Radford told IEEE Spectrum in a video about the robot. “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 the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together in conjunction building habitats, laying foundation and just working together in that tight relationship. Technologies such as Valkyrie are going to really lead into the type of robotic systems that will one day be the precursor missions before the astronauts go to Mars.”
Some team members working with Valkyrie also worked with the space agency’s Robonaut, NASA officials said. Robonaut was the first humanoid robot to fly on the International Space Station, and the agency recently announced that Robonaut 2 — currently attached to a pole in the orbiting outpost — will get its space legs sometime in 2014.