University unveils humanoid to help NASA on missions to Mars

Published: 27 February 2017

Scientists at The University of Edinburgh have unveiled a £2m humanoid robot that will help NASA on unmanned missions to Mars. Sethu Vijayakumar, Professor of Robotics at the university’s School of Informatics, explains more…

What does this project involve?

The Valkyrie project is a result of collaboration between NASA and The University of Edinburgh on a very ambitious futuristic idea. NASA plans to use humanoid robots to send un-manned robotic missions to Mars.

This is massive recognition for...Edinburgh that NASA has chosen us one of the key partners...Over the past ten years, we have significantly strengthened our worldwide standing in the field of robotics.

Sethu Vijayakumar, professor of robotics, at the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics

 

The concept is that it would make manned missions much cheaper, safer and efficient if we could use humanoid robots to pre-deploy essential capabilities on the surface of Mars – ahead of the manned mission (see the movie The Martian for inspiration about capabilities needed).

Other space related goals also include robots co-working in the space station and taking over repetitive as well as high risk tasks (e.g. space walks) from astronauts.

Scientists at The University of Edinburgh have unveiled a £2m humanoid robot that will help NASA on unmanned missions to Mars.

How significant is it for Edinburgh?

This is a massive recognition for the research team, the School of Informatics and the University of Edinburgh that NASA has chosen us one of the key partners in this project.

Over the past ten years, we have significantly strengthened our worldwide standing in the field of robotics and have built on the existing strengths in machine learning to lead the research in data driven control of complex, anthropomorphic robotic platforms.

This has been recognised by the establishment of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded centre of excellence in robotics, in partnership with Heriot-Watt University – with cutting edge infrastructure, world class robotic platforms (of which the NASA Valkyrie is one of the highlights) and funding to train the next generation of world leaders in the field through the EPSRC Doctoral Training Program in Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

How many people are involved?

The project has four principal investigators and around ten to 12 PhD students and postdocs involved in development of various aspects at Edinburgh.

We also collaborate closely with teams at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition in Florida, so this is a truly collaborative and international project.

What's your vision for the project?

My aim, and the direction our research team at Edinburgh are taking, is to provide dexterous capabilities to this extremely powerful, agile and complicated robotic hardware -- so that it realises its true potential.

The Valkyrie project is a result of collaboration between NASA and The University of Edinburgh on a very ambitious futuristic idea.

Over the next four to five years, the robot will be tasked to do several challenging tasks that require dense sensing, manipulation capabilities and close human robot interaction. The scientific challenge is to make such behaviours as robust as possible. We have to deal with real-time control and develop new techniques and algorithms to build walking, grasping, manipulation and balance control -- things that we take for granted as a human being.

I believe that the next scientific frontier in robotics is in the area of 'Shared Autonomy' where the robot and humans will seamlessly be able to collaborate and control the level of autonomy for optimal and safe execution of a task.

 

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E: invest@edinburgh.gov.uk

 

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