Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are slated to get an interesting new roommate later this year.
A 300-pound humanoid robot, dubbed Robonaut 2 (R2), will be transported to the space station aboard the NASA space shuttle Discovery in September -- one of the final scheduled shuttle missions. Jointly developed by NASA and General Motors Corp., the robot will become a permanent resident on the orbiting station.
"The use of R2 on the space station is just the beginning of a quickening pace between human and robotic exploration of space," said John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems Integration Office, in a statement. "The partnership of humans and robots will be critical to opening up the solar system and will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today."
Robonaut 2 consists of a helmeted head, a torso, two arms and two hands, and wheels to transport itself. GM noted that the robot's hands are designed to use tools already aboard the station for use by the astronauts there.
The robot will first be confined to a limited space inside the station. However, GM said that it could later be adapted to work throughout the station, as well as outside it to assist astronauts during spacewalks.
The R2 device is just the latest robot to be used as part of NASA's space exploration projects.
A robotic arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander craft has made significant discoveries on the surface of Mars, such as finding that there is water ice on Mars.
Each of NASA's space shuttles has a robotic arm and there is one onboard on the space station. The arms are used to lift massive objects out of the shuttle's cargo bay and transfer them to to the space station. The arms can even be used to transport NASA astronauts across the space station during spacewalks.
In an interview late in 2008, a NASA official told Computerworld that future of space exploration will depend on humans and robots working together as manned and unmanned missions head back to the moon, to Mars and beyond.
Robonaut 2 will be the first humanoid robot that will stay at the space station. NASA hopes the effort will provide better insight into how robots and humans can work hand-in-hand on future space missions.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.