NASA, University Groups To Train Valkyrie Robot For Mars Mission

NASA has been working on a ‘superhero’ humanoid robot for years. The robot, called R5 or Valkyrie, was initially designed to aid in disaster relief. But NASA now plans to use it in deep space missions, including to Mars. So, the space agency has teamed up with two universities to develop algorithms, test, and train the robot for space missions. NASA plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025, and eventually to Mars by 2035.

NASA, University Groups To Train Valkyrie Robot For Mars Mission

Robots could work alongside humans in space missions

Teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northwestern University will be given prototypes of R5 robot for further research and development. The space agency believes that the humanoid robots could perform specific tasks during space missions before humans arrive. Or they can work alongside the human crew. Robert Ambrose of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said in a statement that the machine could be used if a task is too risky for humans.

Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot tall machine weighing 275 pounds. The two university teams were chosen from among several teams that participated in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Each team will receive $250,000 a year for two years from the space agency’s fund to give R5 advanced capabilities. After two years, they will enter their versions of R5 into NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge. There the two robots will be competing against each other to prove their capability for survival in deep space.

R5 is an upgrade to NASA’s Robonaut

Steve Jurczyk of NASA said advancements in robotics are critical to gain capabilities needed for the manned mission to Mars. Under the terms of the cooperative agreement with the universities, NASA will train students and faculty, then ship the R5 robots to respective universities in January 2016. Valkyrie is an upgrade to the existing Robonaut, which is performing mundane chores at the International Space Station (ISS).

The R5’s battery fitted in a backpack lasts for about an hour. It also features sensors like Lidar and Sonar. The robot has cameras attached to its arms, abdomen, legs, and head to let the operators see what it is doing.