NASA merges man with machineJeff Cannata visits NASA's Johnson's Space Center in Houston and checks out various robotic technologies, including Robonaut 2, the space agency's humanoid robot and an Iron Man-like exoskeleton suit.
-From landing a rover on Mars to researching how to capture in mind asteroids, NASA is innovating in ways that just a few years ago were unimaginable. I visited Johnson Space Center for a tour of their robotics lab where engineers are designing robots to be used in the next generation of space travel. Meet Robonaut. He has a head, torso, two arms; he's 300-pounds, and a version of him is currently on the space station assisting astronauts, which is a first for NASA. I'm gonna meet him right now. So, what are the kinds of things that you're hoping to have to be able to do in the future? -It's-- the ultimate goal is for it to be outside the space station helping the crew with things like work site setup. -What will make this possible is a complex set of systems inside the robot. -All of the motors for the hand are actually back here in the forearm. And they actually pull and push on tendons antagonistically to be able to move each of the fingers joints. -Wow. -So, that's how this motion is actually being created. -So, that works basically just like the muscle systems of a human arm. -It's very, very similar. Yeah. And we've got four sensors, also, on all those tendons so we can detect how much force we're pulling out with the fingers. We can control the grip strength. -Here is Robonaut's hand with the skin off. It's pretty awesome, if not a little creepy if you've seen Terminator. What's inside the chest-torso area? -Sure. So, Robonaut's brain is not in his head. It's actually right here in the chest. So, we're got a computer cage in here that does all the heavy-duty processing. -So, when will he be programmed to feel love? -It's on the list-- -It's on the list. -Somewhere. -Okay, good. I'm glad that's worked in. -Robonaut can do a surprising number of things. It can shake hands, it can use a drill, and it can even lift weights. -So, I hear that Robonaut is a champion weight-lifter. -He's pretty good. -Can we have him a one-on-one? -Sure. Absolutely. -Robots versus humans for the fate of humanity. All right. I can-- I can do that much. He likes slow control. That's the way to maximize your pump. I like your style. Okay. That's hard, that's difficult. Rolling up. Winning. Humanity. Losing. All right. Point made, Robonaut. -You have this round. Would you care for a game of chess? That's amazing. I feel like a BattleMech or Ironman. Robonaut is just one way NASA is using robotics to assist with necessary human functions. The other is with this exoskeleton. It weighs 57 pounds, and it uses robotics to give you added movement, collect data, and give you potentially superhuman strength. NASA wants astronauts to be able to wear suits like this while in space, possibly giving them extra stamina and strength. -I wish I could convey to you exactly how I feel. But words fail me. Even though the motors aren't operational and not giving me added strength and benefit that these are eventually going to give, I feel like if I jumped, I would leap out of this building right now. It's an incredible feeling. -Yeah. When the motors are powered, when they are turned on, it augments their strength and it augments their ability. So right now, there are four degrees of freedom, four active degrees of freedom at the hips and the knees-- -Right. -So that you can feel that here and here. And your other degrees-- -Well, the sound. -of freedom are passive. -Right. What is all this stuff? -So, what you have here in the backpack is your main brainstem computer. -Okay. -So, if you think about it, you have one main computer that then does distributing computing throughout each of the joints. -Well, you could imagine it replacing the need for forklifts or, you know, just doing sort of mundane tasks where you could left and move things that normal humans couldn't. -You know, people talk about this is the decade of the exoskeleton. And it's just gonna get lighter and smaller from here. -Wow. So, you're saying this is the decade of the exoskeleton. So, by the end of this decade, I'm gonna have one of these. That's what you're promising me, right? -I think that is very possible. -I love it. -Of course, you can see where all this research is headed. First, NASA, then someday, who knows? Maybe we'll all be wearing robotic suits. Can you say Ironman?