Spending time on the International Space Station sounds pretty thrilling. But what if you were seriously injured while orbiting the Earth? Unlike on the Starship Enterprise, there’s no full-time space physician, so NASA is developing a robotic one.
The Robonaut 2 isn’t yet ready to perform surgery, but the space agency continues to improve the technology. Multiple iterations of the robot are being tested.
Right now, the model aboard the ISS is just monitoring airflow from the vents. Once the upper torso currently in operation is married with the newly developed legs (which will be delivered as part of an upcoming supply mission), the robot will be able to do more elaborate cleaning. Once the robot can walk successfully in zero gravity, it will trained to perform maintenance tasks outside the station.
The addition of legs (funded by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates) to the robot will hopefully free human crew members from regular and repetitive tasks so they can concentrate on more critical operations. The legs will provide a full extended span of 9 ft. Each leg has seven joints and an “end effector” on the feet that allows the robot to take advantage of handrails and sockets on the ISS.
Robonaut 2 can be remotely controlled by a ground crew member via a virtual reality mask and gloves, or through keyboard commands. The unit’s fingers include pressure sensors, and it is strong enough to move a 20-lb. weight in Earth’s gravity using just one arm.