Robotic astronaut offers glimpse into future at ProMat Keynote

During the 50th anniversary of the first industrial robot installed at a General Motors plant, the company is now celebrating another milestone: Its first robot in space.
By Modern Materials Handling Staff
March 22, 2011 - MMH Editorial

During the 50th anniversary of the first industrial robot installed at a General Motors plant, the company is now celebrating another milestone: Its first robot in space.
Marty Linn, principal robotics engineer for GM, and Ron Diftler of NASA’s Robotic Systems Technology Branch, introduced the Robonaut 2, a learning humanoid robot nicknamed R2, at the keynote on Tuesday.

“As we’ve seen the blending of science fiction to science reality, this robot is the next step,” said Linn.

The Robonaut program began in 1998 at NASA, and GM joined the project in 2006. The partnership has resulted in 42 patents and a $2.5 million humanoid robot with some of the most advanced dexterity hardware in existence.

Diftler presented video footage of R2 curling a 20-pound dumbbell, holding it at arm’s length, writing in cursive, and shaking hands. In fact, R2 is able to sense when a human would like to shake hands, one of the many nonverbal cues it is programmed to recognize. The advanced pressure sensors also increase safety, allowing a human operator to easily halt the movement of R2’s arm with a gentle nudge.

Linn touted the technology’s broad applications to products and manufacturing, citing all-new classes of safety and control systems in R2, who was not able to attend the event due to a prior obligation on the International Space Station. There, R2 is being tested in a series of indoor activities. Diftler said R2 might soon be used operationally instead of experimentally, and could be ideal for spacewalks where human risks are more severe.

“Reporters ask, ‘Did you design this to put people out of work?’ Absolutely not,” said Linn. “The people in this room know robots create jobs by enhancing and complementing human workers. The vision for us is humans and robots working side by side.”

Ridge stresses preparedness in ProMat Keynote
Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, welcomed attendees to ProMat 2011 with his keynote speech.

ProMat 2011 will be held March 21 - 24, 2011 at McCormick Place South in Chicago. The tradeshow will showcase the latest manufacturing, distribution and supply chain solutions in the material handling and logistics industry.

Read all of Modern’s ProMat 2011 coverage


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