Two days, two carmaker tie-ups with NASA. It looks like the government is looking to get the most out of its bailout money, as recent cutbacks at NASA have put manned missions in jeopardy. The answer? Have GM build a robot that can go instead. Sort of.
So it's not really that simple. The Robonaut 2, or R2, is a human-like robot that's set to join the International Space Station as a permanent resident later this year. The 300-pound R2 is essentially a waist-up humanoid robot, with a torso, head, and two arms with hands. When it arrives at the ISS in September, it will join another robot already there, the Canadian Space Agency's Dextre, a robot that handles things outside the station.
R2 is intended to work in the ISS's Destiny lab, however, where it will be further tested as development on the robot continues. The eventual goal is to give the R2 some form of lower-body mobility, ruggedize it for spacewalk capability and otherwise proof it against the dangers and rigors of space.
Fans of Isaac Asimov's work will no doubt be thinking to themselves, "careful, now..." as GM and NASA push further toward the goal of joint human-robot exploration of space. More recent sci-fi converts may even be mumbling "frakkin' Cylons" under their breath. But this is not the droid you're looking for.
Whatever your robot-fearing bent, it's pretty cool to see the car companies working on high-tech space equipment once again. There's even some room for crossover to the car market, though likely without the humanoid form factor: vision, motion and sensor technologies needed to let the R2 do its job properly could all be adapted, along with their software, to increasing awareness and safety behind the wheel.