Humanoid robot Valkyrie from NASA, which is currently being tested at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, could be the key to future space exploration. Valkyrie, a robot nearly two meters tall and weighing 136 kilograms, is designed to operate in man-made environments that have been degraded or damaged, such as by natural disasters.
Valkyrie also includes advanced software systems that facilitate sensory processing and semi-autonomous task execution, although it can also be controlled remotely by human operators. The US space agency predicts that robots like Valkyrie will also be able to perform tasks in outer space.
NASA is collaborating with robotics companies including Austin, Texas-based Apptronik to understand how humanoid robots designed for ground use can adapt to future space missions. Apptronik’s current developments include Apollo, a robot designed for logistics tasks in warehouses and manufacturing plants, such as moving packages and stacking pallets.
“Our goal is to make this system online 22 hours a day,” he said. KSL Nick Payne, CTO at Apptronik. “It has a replaceable battery, so you can run for four hours, change the battery, and then get back to work very quickly.”
NASA’s Agile Robotics team, led by Sean Azimi, envisions these humanoid robots could perform risky activities outside of spacecraft, such as cleaning solar panels or checking faulty equipment, freeing astronauts to focus on exploration and discovery. “We’re not trying to replace human crews, but rather we want to remove boring, dirty and dangerous work so they can focus on higher-level activities,” he explained KSL Azimi.
Apollo will offer significant advantages over humans in terms of endurance. Jeff Cardenas, CEO of Apptronik, sees unlimited potential to improve Apollo’s capabilities as new software is developed. “We start with the warehouse and manufacturing plant, but then we can move into retail… delivery and what we call unstructured spaces,” he said when consulted by the same publication.
In the future, unstructured places such as spatial environments may be included in the areas of activity of these developments. “Robots like Apollo are designed to be modular and adapt to many applications,” Azimi explained. “And that’s where NASA is really trying to realize that vision – to see what the key gaps are where we’ll need to invest in the future to bring the ground system into the space environment and get certified to operate in space.”