Robonaut 2 is headed to the International Space Station this fall on the space shuttle Discovery -- the first American-made robot to do so.
NASA's immediate goal is to see how the machine fares in micro-gravity, so it will be riding in Discovery's cargo bay, but over time it may be upgraded with software and a lower body so it could help the astronauts do tasks -- especially routine or dangerous tasks.
First, R2 could vacuum or clean filters, NASA says, and if it's successful, it might eventually work alongside the astronauts in deep space. (Having a robot that could go on the space walk Friday and help replace the space station's broken cooling pump would be nice).
One reason R2 is dexterous enough to Tweet is that it was designed jointly by NASA and General Motors, which hopes to put a version of R2 on its assembly lines. The robot is able to use the same tools as humans, and it should be able to complete a task without being constantly watched -- an improvement over its predecessor, which was built 10 years ago with help from DARPA.
Robots are a high priority at NASA, partly because of the agency's slimmed down budget, now before Congress -- NASA officials have proposed several missions to Congress that would send robot scouts to the moon, asteroids and Mars ahead of humans.
As for R2's features, it can look left, right, up or down and hold 20 pounds (with a grasping force of five pounds). Since its head is full of cameras (two for stereo vision, two auxiliary, and one infrared for depth perception), its brain is in its stomach.
It's also been fortified to meet the space station's power, flammability, electromagnetic and noise requirements, and has had vibration tests to make sure it can survive the ride.
Submit your questions to @AstroRobonaut and mark them #4R2. With some help from NASA (software for R2 to answer questions on its own is not a priority, NASA says), R2 will reply at 10 AM Central Time.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com