He’s not quite C3PO, nor the emotional fireplug that Star Wars fans knew as R2D2, but Robonaut 2 will soon be taking his place in space as the latest resident on the international space station.
Jointly developed by NASA and General Motors, the 300-pound R2, as he’s become known to developers, is designed to see if a life-like robot can work alongside human counterparts in a variety of duties off planet Earth. (See NASA and GM Working on Robotic Technology)
R2 will actually be the second robot on the space station, though the original, Canadian-designed Dextre, is anything but anthropomorphic. It consists of two long, spider-like arms that can perform some of the exterior construction and repair work that would normally require a space walk by human astronauts.
“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. “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.”
While R2 might look like an astronaut suited up for a space walk, GM developers stress that he not only looks human but is designed to work like one, with arms and hands that can perform the same function as living, breathing space station dwellers.