NASA has created a lifelike robot named Valkyrie that is destined to become a space explorer, which means that it could be scheduled to explore Mars alongside the Mars One team. Whereas the NASA team is taking Mars exploration one step at a time, the Mars One team plans to send human colonists to the planet as early as 2018, without robot drones to pave the way.
The NASA robot, named for a female figure in Norse mythology, is 6 feet tall with a glowing chest that resembles Iron Man’s. The robot is designed to be very flexible and durable so that it might successfully navigate the Martian terrain as a part of future NASA missions. In a pinch, Valkyrie could also be employed in dangerous search and rescue missions, since it can withstand heat much more effectively than a human and remove debris to save human lives. Mars One is still busy designing tools for the trip, but as yet they have made no mention of robots like this one.
NASA has equipped its robot with interchangeable arms, multiple cameras, sonar and lidar. Not only that, but Valkyrie is actually wearing clothes. Its developers say that these clothes, or “soft goods,” are designed both to protect the equipment and to appeal to human counterparts. Nicolaus Radford, Dexterous Robotics Lab project leader for NASA, explains:
“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.”
Radford told reporters that NASA is planning to go to Mars, and the Valkyrie is a prototype to help accomplish that goal. Whereas the Mars One team wants to jump right into Martian colonization, NASA is looking at the future of space travel in a more calm and logical manner. Robots like this one will probably be sent to the planet before any humans, to gather data and prepare a suitable camp space for future human space explorers. When NASA is ready, astronauts will be sent to explore the planet safely with the help of these Valkyrie models.
Before the robot gets to go exploring, however, it is scheduled to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robot Challenge. Designed with DARPA in mind, Valkyrie will be competing against other high-tech robots whose purpose is to provide first-response assistance in disaster areas. Using its strength and dexterity, Valkyrie will try to prove its worth here on Earth before heading out to Mars for heavy lifting. Because of the duality of Valkyrie’s purpose, the robot has been dubbed a “superhero.”
NASA is sending Valkyrie to the DARPA challenge as a way to ensure that the robot is ready to face tough terrain during otherworldly exploration. Robots competing in the challenge must demonstrate their highly-tuned skills by climbing a ladder, walking over uneven ground, breaking walls, moving heavy debris and even connecting a fire hose. As for the Mars One team, they’re going to have their work cut out for them as they attempt to build a camp, grow food, maintain their water supply and explore the terrain. No robots are going along to do the more dangerous Mars One jobs, although if everything goes well, maybe NASA can spare one or two Valkyrie robots to explore Mars alongside them.
by Mandy Gardner