Russian robot to act as companion to astronauts

By Aram Ter-Gazaryan, Special to Russia Beyond the Headlines   |   Nov. 8, 2016 at 4:49 PM
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Russian astronauts will soon have a new companion on their space travels, but this one won't be made of flesh and blood. At the end of October, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees military and space projects, announced the use of robots on space flights.

The humanoid robot, FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research), will start operating onboard the International Space Station in 2021. Developers say the robot is unique, because it can operate not only in space but also in extreme environments on Earth.

Better than humans

"In their work onboard spacecraft, during space-walking missions and on other planets, astronauts will rely on robots," said the head of the project, Sergei Khurs, director of the National Center for Technology Development and Basic Robotics. "Among the latter, the key role will belong to those capable of operating in the same conditions as humans. Their capabilities are equal to those of humans and in some ways even exceed them."

Anthropomorphic robots do not require special instruments, appliances or transport. Their task is to replace people in dangerous conditions, as well as take on difficult and routine work in order to save human effort and intellect for more serious tasks.

The entire process to create FEDOR took 2 1/2 years, in large part thanks to support from the Advanced Research Foundation and the Android Technology company. In the course of working on FEDOR, 14 new technologies were developed that laid the foundation for a combined control based on sensory feedback.

FEDOR is expected to replace human beings in areas that are dangerous for life and well-being. At the same time, an anthropomorphic robot can operate in an infrastructure designed for humans.

Cautious robots

FEDOR already has company in space, which includes the Russian-made SAR-400 and SAR-401, the U.S.-made Robonaut and Robonaut 2, Germany's AILA, and China's Хiaotian. Also, NASA is preparing a robot called Valkyrie for a lengthy mission to Mars, where the androids will be tasked with building colonies.

FEDOR can perform the functions of a rescuer, a mine-disposal expert, a diver, and a welder. It is already the fifth group of android robots developed by the Android Technology research and production association. The first four were designed for the Emergency Situations Ministry.

The Energia Rocket and Space Corp. is setting up a laboratory to develop the goals and tasks for FEDOR's first space mission, said Khurs.

Cooperation between astronauts and robots during long space missions is now an integral part of research carried out by the ISS. A crucial task that developers all over the world face is to make robots more sensitive to safety concerns. Robots should become "more cautious than humans," designers explain. When this goal has been achieved, androids will be taught not to damage surrounding objects, to move independently and to operate within the confined area of a spacecraft.

This article originally appeared at Russia Beyond the Headlines.

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