Robonaut Performs Hubble Space Telescope Repair Tasks

Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid telepresence robot developed by the Robot Systems Technology Branch at the Johnson Space Center. The intent of the project is to have an "EVA astronaut equivalent" on station; it can be activated and controlled by an earth-bound operator when needed.

(From Robonaut Telepresence Robot)

The Robonaut has a variety of sensors, including thermal, positional, tactile, force and torque instrumentation, with over 150 sensors per arm. The Robonaut boasts an onboard CPU with data acquisition and power management. It has an unusual structure:

Robonaut uses a chordate approach to data management, bringing all feedback to a central nervous system, where even low-level servo control is performed. This biologically inspired neurological approach is extended to left-right computational symmetry, sensor and power duality and kinematical redundancy, enabling learning and optimization in mechanical, electrical and software forms.

The operator controls the Robonaut using a special glove and mechanical exoskeleton. As the operator moves her arm and fingers, the motion is imitated by the robot.

(From Robonaut Telepresence Robot)

In a demonstration this past April, Robonaut Unit B was able to successfully work on the HST Aft Shroud Door trainer, simulating the most difficult tasks associated with HST repair activities. Robonaut was able to remove a pin securing a door, unlatch the door, disconnect an electrical cable, inspect it for bent pins and then reconnect it. One result of this demonstration is a planned improvement in fingertip sensors to provide better grasping control.

The basic insight that allows a complex robot like Robonaut to be controlled by natural human movement was achieved by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. In his 1942 short story Waldo he described a way that a remote gripping arm could be controlled by an operator:

Waldo put his arms into the primary pair before him; all three pairs, including the secondary pair before the machine, came to life. Waldo flexed and extended his fingers gently; the two pairs of waldoes in the screen followed in exact, simultaneous parallelism.

Here is a cool video that demonstrates how the telepresence aspect of the system works. See the rest of the very detailed NASA site - Robonaut remote telefactoring robot; story from NASA's Robonaut: Bobafettish (Gizmodo).

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