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NASA, GM unveil Robonaut 2 (photos)

The updated humanoid robot is handy with tools and 20-pound weights, and ready to work on the assembly line or in outer space.

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Jon Skillings

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Robonaut 2

Is this the new face of the automotive assembly line? Meet Robonaut 2, the result of a collaboration between NASA and General Motors, along with engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston. NASA and GM see the new humanoid robot fitting in well both in the automotive industry and in the aerospace business.
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A helping hand

Robonaut 2, or R2 for short, builds upon NASA's decade-old Robonaut technology, which was designed specifically for space travel. (The space agency's partner in that go-round was the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, aka DARPA.) While R2 is faster and more technologically advanced in a number of ways, what really stands out are its hands, which NASA says can do work beyond the scope of earlier humanoid robots.
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Robotic handyman

The R2 machines are designed to use the same tools as humans. NASA and GM say this advanced dexterity means the robots will be able to work safely alongside flesh-and-blood astronauts and technicians.

"For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants," Alan Taub, the automaker's vice president for global research and development, said in a statement. "When it comes to future vehicles, the advancements in controls, sensors and vision technology can be used to develop advanced vehicle safety systems. The partnership's vision is to explore advanced robots working together in harmony with people, building better, higher quality vehicles in a safer, more competitive manufacturing environment."

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A weighty workload

R2 can lift and hold a 20-pound weight, or roughly four times as much as other dexterous robots, NASA says.
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20-pound curls

Is this a dumbbell I see before me? No problem.

Robonaut 2 isn't the first collaboration between NASA and GM. The two worked together four decades ago on the Apollo program, developing navigation systems and the lunar rover vehicle.

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Man and robot

R2 keeps company with a GM project engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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The original Robonaut

From December 2003, this is Robonaut B, a much earlier update of the original technology, retrofitted with a mobility platform that uses the base of a Segway transporter.

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