Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Space Repairman

Although the events that doomed the space shuttle Columbia may never be fully understood, investigators have focused on damage to thermal tiles inaccessible to the astronauts. In the future, says Robert Ambrose at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, crews on the International Space Station or a shuttle might include a robotic repairman.

NASA’s “Robonaut” is getting close to realizing that vision. With its human-size palm, four fingers, and an opposable thumb, Robonaut is “phenomenally dexterous,” says Alan Peters, a researcher at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Intelligent Systems. “It has the best hands of any robot on the planet.” This allows Robonaut to use wrenches and other hand tools.

Currently, sensors on a human operator’s body translate the operator’s movements into the robot’s actions. The human sees what Robonaut “sees,” thanks to cameras mounted in the robot’s head. But mechanical engineer Marcia O’Malley at Rice University is developing a sleeve containing tactile vibrators that will enable the operator also to feel what the robot “feels.” The payoff: more accurate control.

This story is part of our May 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

This tactile dimension might also let Robonaut learn what jobs should feel like, Ambrose says. This could help the robot become fully autonomous, a goal of research collaborators at the University of Southern California. Robonaut could be headed for space in three years.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.