December 11, 2013
NASA’s Superhero Robot ‘Valkyrie’ Ready For DARPA Challenge
[ Watch the Video: NASA's Valkyrie Robot Ready For Competition ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
With an appearance not unlike Ironman, the superhero robot is equipped with detachable arms, sonar sensors, mounted cameras, and a glowing circle in the middle of its chest – just like the Marvel comic book character.
Project leader Nicolaus Radford told IEEE Spectrum that the robot’s appearance was designed to impress.
“We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it you’re going to be like, ‘wow’ that’s really awesome,” Radford said in a web video.
Valkyrie, which has the official NASA designation of “R5," stands about 6-feet-2-inches tall and weighs almost 280 pounds. It was designed to compete in the trial stage of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). In the competition, robots are asked to complete a series of tasks, such as driving a car, walking over rough terrain, attaching a virtual hose, and turning a valve. Essentially, Valkyrie has to be able to operate in the same way a normal person would while under the control of humans who have only minimal training with robots.
According to DARPA, the main goal of the DRC is to push innovation towards building robots that can take over tasks normally handled by humans. Using robots to perform these tasks could be advantageous in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, such as disaster areas.
Valkyrie is designed to achieve a human-like range of actions through the use of arms with seven degrees of motion and actuated wrists and hands, each hand having three fingers and a thumb. The robotic juggernaut also has a natural range of motion, a waist that can rotate, and dexterous legs – complete with feet equipped with force-torque sensors.
The robot is powered by a removable battery in its backpack that lasts for about an hour of activity. The battery pack is easily accessible and can be swapped out for a fresh battery in just minutes.
The NASA team also designed Valkyrie's limbs to be easily replaced and customizable. Within minutes, a damaged arm can be changed out. The team also designed each arm to be identical – meaning a left arm can quickly be modified to become a right arm.
Radford said the team emphasized the need for the robot to feel 'soft,' and in pursuit of this goal they wrapped Valkyrie in custom fitted panels of fabric-wrapped foam clothing.
"We take our soft goods very seriously," Radford said. "Our robot is soft. If you brush against it while you're working, you don't want to feel this cold, hard metal. You want it to feel natural, like you're working next to another human being. The soft goods, the clothes we put on the robot, give it that feel, that appearance of being more comfortable to be near."
In July, DARPA unveiled its own robot for the competition – the 6-foot-2-inch humanoid ATLAS.