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In the world of robotics, some inventions are stranger than fiction. The massive Kurata robot could easily be mistaken for the made-believe machines in such Hollywood blockbusters as “Transformers” and “Real Steel.”
The Japanese robot, made by Suidobashi Heavy Industry, stands a menacing 13-feet-tall (4 meters), and is equipped with “machine guns” and “rocket launchers” in its arms (they’re actually BB Guns and fireworks, which are still dangerous). These huge humanoid machines can be piloted manually from a cockpit inside the robot, or they can be controlled remotely using a smartphone.
Want your very own Kurata robot? These custom-built machines can be purchased for more than $1.35 million.
French company Aldebaran Robotics, headquartered in Paris, developed an autonomous and programmable robot named Nao. This interactive bot is equipped with cutting-edge motion, vision and audio capabilities.
The Nao robot can walk on different surfaces, track and recognize faces and objects, express and understand emotions, and react to touch or voice commands. And if that’s not enough, the robot can also do the Gangnam Style dance (yes, really).
In 2005, the whizzes at Boston Dynamics created a four-legged robot, called BigDog, to serve as a robotic pack mule for the military. The project was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense tasked with developing new technologies for the military.
BigDog walks on four sturdy legs, and it can accompany soldiers across terrain deemed too rough for vehicles. The robot can lug 340 pounds (150 kilograms) of cargo and is capable of keeping up a pace of 4 mph (6.4 km/h).
It may not be what typically comes to mind when people think of “robots,” but this humanlike contraption was designed to simulate the symptoms of the H1N1 (swine) flu to help train Japanese doctors. The robot, which is covered in material resembling human skin, can sweat, cry and even convulse. If the robots do not receive proper treatment, their symptoms gradually get worse, and in some cases, they can even stop breathing and “die.”
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Octavia robot is a humanoid machine with perhaps some of the creepiest facial features. Octavia is a firefighting robot designed to help engineers test new technologies to assist members of the U.S. Naval Fleet.
Octavia is designed to interact with humans, and engineers are trying to develop ways for the robot to identify and track people, understand what humans say, and recognize any gestures they make. Eventually, scientists hope Octavia will be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with human teammates, with sophisticated speech and visual recognition capabilities.
This article is part of the NASA Knows! (Grades K-4) series.
Robotics is the study of robots. Robots are machines that can be used to do jobs. Some robots can do work by themselves. Other robots must always have a person telling them what to do.
How Does NASA Use Robots?
NASA uses robots in many different ways. Robotic arms on spacecraft can move large objects in space. Robotic spacecraft can visit other worlds. Robotic airplanes can fly without a pilot aboard. NASA is studying new types of robots. These will work with people and help them.
What Are Robotic Arms?
NASA uses robotic arms to move large objects in space. The “Canadarm” robotic arm is on the space shuttle. The International Space Station has the larger Canadarm2. The space shuttle uses its arm for many jobs. The Canadarm can release or recover satellites. Astronauts have used it to grab the Hubble Space Telescope. This let them fix the Hubble. The shuttle and space station arms work together to help build the station. The robotic arms have added new parts to the space station. The arms also can move astronauts around on spacewalks. The space station’s arm can move to different parts of the station. It moves along the outside of the station like an inchworm, attached at one end at a time. It has a robotic “hand” named Dextre that can do smaller jobs. An astronaut or someone in Mission Control must control these robotic arms. The astronaut uses controllers like joysticks used to play video games.
How Do Robots Explore Other Worlds?
Robots help explore space. Spacecraft that explore other worlds, like the moon or Mars, are robots. These include orbiters, landers and rovers on other planets. The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are robots. Other robotic spacecraft fly by or orbit other worlds. These robots study planets from space. The Cassini spacecraft is this type of robot. Cassini studies Saturn and its moons and rings. The Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft are now traveling beyond our solar system. They are also robots. People use computers to send messages to the spacecraft. The robots have antennas that pick up the message commands. Then the robot does what the person has told it to do.
How Does NASA Use Robotic Airplanes?
NASA uses many airplanes that do not carry pilots aboard. Some of these airplanes are flown by remote control. Others can fly themselves, with only simple directions. Robotic planes help in many ways. They can study dangerous places. For example, they might be used to take pictures of a volcano. They let NASA try new ideas for aircraft. These planes can fly for a long time without the need to land. They also can be smaller than a plane flown by a pilot. They may not have room for a person to be on board.
How Can Robots Help Astronauts?
NASA is developing new robots to help people in space. One of these ideas is called Robonaut. Robonaut looks like the upper body of a person. It has a chest, head and arms. Robonaut could work outside a spacecraft. It could do work like an astronaut on a spacewalk. With wheels or another way of moving, Robonaut could work on another world. Robonaut could help astronauts on the moon or Mars.
Another robot idea is called SPHERES. These small robots look a little like soccer balls. SPHERES are being used on the space station to test how well they can move there. Someday, robots could fly around the station helping astronauts.
NASA is studying other ideas for robots. A small robotic arm could be used inside the station. A robot like that might help in an emergency. If an astronaut were seriously hurt, a doctor on Earth could use the arm to perform surgery. This technology could help on Earth, as well. Doctors could help people in faraway places where there are no doctors.
Robots also can be used as scouts to check out new areas to be explored. Scout robots can take photographs and measure the terrain. This helps scientists and engineers make better plans for exploring. Scout robots can be used to look for dangers and to find the best places to walk, drive or stop. This helps astronauts work more safely and quickly. Having humans and robots work together makes it easier to study other worlds.