NASA and Robotics


Like many other new inventions, NASA and new developments in space technology are bringing the latest developments in robotics back down to earth. From robotic exoskeletons to robots that will work right alongside astronauts on the space station or in future interplanetary exploration and habitation, NASA is leader of the game.

Earlier this month, NASA showed off its X1 robotic exoskeleton which they believe will keep astronaut's muscles healthier in outer space. The project came about as an off-shoot from NASA's Robonaut 2 project. The Iron Man type suit was created from a collaboration between The Florida Institute For Human And Machine Cognition, Oceaneering Space Systems Huston, and NASA engineers.

The 57 pound robotic device can assist and resist movement in the legs. The X1 encompasses the entire leg with a harness running up the astronauts back and over the shoulders. The motorized joints, four in the hips, knees, and six passive joints in the foot, allow the person to sidestep, turn, and aim their leg in a ten degree radius. The suit can exercise the muscles in zero gravity or assist the astronaut in difficult maneuvers. They are going allin on this one.

Although it is still in the research and development phase, the X1 may someday help space explorers when walking on asteroids or planets with greater gravity than we experience on earth. It may also stream back information on the health and condition of deep space travelers to doctors here on earth in real time. The potentials of the X1 are endless, and it has many features and adjustments for the very difficult conditions encountered in space travel.

The applications here on earth for the X1 are what NASA engineers like to refer to as a return on investment, and they are right. The X1 suit could help paraplegics or amputees walk again without assistance. People with spinal injuries or paralyzed limbs, who never had the hope of walking again, would have their lives returned to normal. The suit could also be used in physical therapy to help accident victims regain control of their muscles and limbs.

Robonaut 2, or R2, became the first humanoid robot in space last year. Created by NASA's and General Motor's engineers, the robot is being designed and tested to utilize tools and work controls alongside astronauts deployed to the international space station. The engineers used cutting edge technology of actuators, sensors, and robotic tendons that achieved incredible advancements in robotic arm dexterity.

The Robonaut 2 research has now led to the development of the Robo-Glove. Engineers noticed workers, who continuously grip tools, suffered from fatigue and loss of dexterity in the workplace after only a few minutes. The Robo-Glove could alleviate this problem here on earth and in space. What benefits the robot could also benefit humans. A worker who needs to apply 20 pounds of torque to a wrench would only need to apply 10 pounds with the Robo-Glove. Something General Motors could use to increase its worker's efficiency. No you do not need this glove to play blackjack, but there are many possible industrial usage of it.

These are just a few of the latest developments in robotics that will benefit us here on earth and in space; furthermore, it shows how NASA is integral in the inventions of new technologies we use in our everyday lives.

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Essay © 1982 David Brin. All rights reserved.