Robonaut 2 (R2), designed and built at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is a dexterous humanoid robot to work alongside astronauts in space, taking over repetitive and dangerous tasks.
The first humanoid robot in space was sent to the space station last February on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission, "but that was just one small step for a robot and one giant leap for robot-kind," NASA says.
High-tech firm Wyle, a technology services provider to the federal government has helped NASA prepare R2 for launch to the space station. One of the company's responsibilities was to build a full-scale mockup of R2 for the simulation of potential missions.
The exterior of the mockup had to duplicate the geometry and appearance of the actual R2, and its limbs had to be easily moved into the same positions as the real robot. It also had to withstand rough handling during simulation and training exercises.
"The geometry is very complex and we were under time constraints to produce the mockup," said Robert Stevenson, mechanical designer for Wyle. The parts have so many compound contours that it would have been very difficult to hold them during finish machining. One consequence is that they would have had to be thicker than on the real R2 which would have added to the weight of the mockup. The estimated delivery time for conventional machining for the mockup was 8 months and the cost was $180,000.
(R2 mockup in the US Lab mock-up at Johnson Space Center)
Wylie had earlier good experience with RedEye On Demand's digital manufacturing services, so they sent CAD models to RedEye.
RedEye, a Stratasys company, used Fused Deposition Modeling technology to build the mockup from ABS plastic material.
It took only two weeks and cost $36,000 for RedEye to make all of the parts required for the mockup. The interior of the mockup is made from square tubing to provide strength. The mockup is positioned by tension in its joints like a mannequin.
"NASA was very happy with the mockup," said Gina Young, Project Manager for Wyle. "They liked the fact that it was produced on schedule, is light compared to the original and is strong enough to withstand the large amount of handling it has received. The feedback we received is that the mockup has made it much easier for the crew to train and prepare to utilize the R2."
Initially, R2 will be deployed on a fixed pedestal inside the ISS for operational testing. Next steps include adding a leg for climbing through the corridors of the ISS and further upgrades to go outside in the vacuum of space.
Source: RedEye on Demand
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