NASA's 6-foot Valkyrie humanoid robot ready for DARPA Challenge

Designed for the Pentagon's DARPA Challenge, Valkyrie is autonomous, runs on a battery, is flexible and has almost human-like movements.
By Ananth Baliga   |   Dec. 11, 2013 at 4:41 PM   |   Comments

Dec. 11 (UPI) -- NASA-developed humanoid robot Valkyrie, developed for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, has detachable arms, sensors and cameras for search and rescue operations in disaster zones.

The 6-foot-2-inch robot built by NASA's Johnson Space Center, is mobile and autonomous, capable of moving in different environments and even has a glowing circle on its chest, much like the robotic suit used in Ironman.

Unlike DARPA's own robot, Atlas, Valkyrie does not require a tether and is battery powered. NASA has a second entry in the challenge, RoboSimian, built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Other teams come from Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Tech, MIT and Lockheed Martin, among others

The challenge will involve tasks like walking over uneven terrain, climbing a ladder, using tools and driving. Valkyrie has detachable arms, with each hand having three fingers and a thumb. Its head can twist and swivel and its waist that can rotate. All these movements are meant to help Valkyrie overcome the obstacles that it may encounter in a disaster zone.

Valkyrie builds on technology already developed for Robonaut, a humanoid upper torso, currently being used on the International Space Station. But team leader Nicolaus Radford said that Valkyrie is not just an upgrade on Robonaut with the addition of legs. Robonaut was designed for microgravity and was modeled after a large astronaut form, not ideal for a robot that will be used on Earth.

Apart from building a well-designed robot, scientists were also keen to create a certain aesthetic look for Valkyrie. For this reason, Valkyrie wears clothing and is made using fitted panels of fabric-wrapped foam armor.

"Our robot is soft. If you brush against it while you're working, you don't want to feel this cold, hard metal. You want it to feel natural, like you're working next to another human being," said Radford.

Unlike Robonaut, Valyrie is not a space-faring robot but it could aid humans in space.

"NASA wants to get to Mars, and in order to get to Mars, NASA will likely send robots ahead of the human explorers. These robots will start preparing the way for the humans, and when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together," said Radford.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials take place in Florida in a few weeks, and Valkyrie will be competing against 16 other teams.

[IEEE Spectrum]

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