Evolution Comes Full Circle As NASA Develops "RoboSimian" Robot

As of this morning, it is 2015, and therefore further into the future.  And what future is fun without new space gadgetry?

As reported by CNN, NASA has developed a new robot to navigate the adventures of interplanetary exploration...or even just to help out around the home planet.  Designed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) facility, the new RoboSimian bot doesn't mess around with any of those cheesy humanoid-droid elements and skips straight to having seven cameras mounted all around a headless, dexterously multi-limbed body.

Don't freak out if you see this thing in a disaster situation; it's trying to come help you.
(Image courtesy robotnyheter.se.)

RoboSimian's four jointed limbs can function as either arms or legs, enabling walking or even rolling over various surfaces.  The limbs can also pick up and manipulate objects, making the robots useful not just to rescue themselves from far-flung planetary problems, but also to aid in earthly disaster scenarios (for example, RoboSimian is dexterous enough to turn off valves.)  If after a nuclear event or other catastrophe, RoboSimian could be sent in to help where rescuers can't reach.

RoboSimian and other robo-siblings will be put to the test in June as part of DARPA's Robotics Challenge, an eight-event challenge that will discern which bots are the most badass.  RoboSimian and its 18 challengers will have to attempt to drive a car, use tools, navigate rubble and climb stairs, all without a human pilot.  A $2 million prize awaits for the robot that can function at the level of what DARPA compares to "as competent as a 2-year-old child."

A two-year-old-child, minus the puking and screaming, plus serious survival skills.
(Image courtesy phys.org.)

JPL already has a huge winner in its wheelhouse with the interplanetarily-famous Mars Rover, currently still on task on the red planet.  The difficult communications gap between Earth and Mars helped to lead to the technology that allows for RoboSimian's autonomous achievements.  This thorough, classic-NASA cautious "consciousness", coupled with RoboSimian's adaptability, makes for a slow but steady robo-rover.

"It is intentionally the tortoise relative to the other hares in the competition," said Brett Kennedy, JPL's supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group. "We feel that a very stable and deliberate approach suites our technical strengths and provides a model for one vital element of the 'ecosystem' of robots that we expect to be deployed to disaster scenarios in the future."

RoboSimian (left) will progress to the DARPA Robotics Challenge as JPL's entry after, among other victories, beating out fellow contender Surrogate (right) in a robot dance contest.
(Image courtesy JPL/NASA.gov.)

Kennedy also noted that due to the nature of the search/rescue/explore jobs that RoboSimian will hold, this intent was instilled in RoboSimian's design.  "Basically, we wanted the perceptual equivalent of a St. Bernard," he said.

Yes, someday your life might be saved by a robot-monkey-St. Bernard...if it's not busy working on a comet or Mars.  Welcome to a little further in the future!

R2-D2 and C3P0 have a new buddy in town, and he means business.
(Image courtesy engineering.ucsb.edu.)


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