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NASA's Robonaut Gets Its Legs; Could a Moonwalk Be In Its Future?

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the walk-like-a-man dept.

NASA 63

MarkWhittington writes "Project M was a proposal at NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center that would have put together a mission to deliver a bipedal robot to the lunar surface within a thousand days. The idea never got out of the conception stage, but two major components, a new type of lunar lander, now called Morpheus, and a robonaut continued on as separate projects. Morpheus is getting ready to conduct a second attempt at free flight tests at the Kennedy Space Center. The first attempt resulted in the destruction of the prototype vehicle. If the second round of tests is successful, NASA will have a spacecraft that could deliver 1,100 pounds of payload to the lunar surface. While a copy of Robonaut 2 is still undergoing tests on board the International Space Station, ABC News reports that a cousin of the mechanical person has been built with legs. It stands eight feet tall and weighs 500 pounds. With two major components of Project M nearing completion, could a robonaut become the next moon walker?"

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63 comments

"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

horm (2802801) | about 5 months ago | (#45387729)

Are legs really required for EVA?

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (2)

ModernGeek (601932) | about 5 months ago | (#45387741)

Wheels would be a lot better. Once the rover was made available, our moonwalkers hopped in it and took off exploring. No legs just eliminates the middle man. Before we know it, we'll have software developers fused to our chairs and fed through tubes as to increase efficiency.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45387887)

Dunno about the "Moon" part, but they are needed for the "Walk" part.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 5 months ago | (#45388853)

Dunno about the "Moon" part, but they are needed for the "Walk" part.

But two legs is purely an anthropomorphic choice.

  If there is a reason to not use wheels (I haven't heard any), then surely 4 legs or maybe 6 make more sense than two.
The load carrying capability is greater, the ballance issue is easier to handle and fall recovery less of an issue.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 5 months ago | (#45390647)

Wheels can only overcome obstacles less than half their diameter high. Legs can overcome obstacles as high as almost their entire length.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#45390769)

So wheels with controlled Hydraulic suspension, to lift the wheel up more.

The reason why we living things don't have wheels isn't because legs are so much better, but it will take extraordinary effort for evolution to make wheels. as normally it would mean the wheel will need to be cut off from the rest of the body. So either the wheel and the body will need to be two different life forms, needing their own food and energy. Or the wheels will need to be made from dead tissue, which would mean after they ware out the organism become immobile. I could see possible a piston type of movement... However that would require a lot of complex joints. Unlike Darwin Evolution, it isn't survival of the fittest, but survival of the good enough.
 

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 5 months ago | (#45392447)

Um... No. The reason wheels didn't catch on evolutionary wise is that wheels don't work well in water. They also don't work well on the bulk of dry terrain either, but that's beside the point. The wheel/limb decision point was in life's deep past (or, life's past in the deep), probably back when life was first becoming multicellular. The flagellum (which is a wheel) was ditched in favour of waving fins. The fins, as the lungfish crawled through the tidal basins evolved into limbs.

That's not to say that creatures don't roll. Some curl up into balls and can roll downwind or downhill. Some can even push themselves along while curled up in a ball. None, however, use that as their main method of locomotion.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

mrego (912393) | about 5 months ago | (#45392287)

Legs are useless in space, unless they can grab like a monkey's. 3 arms would be great as would multiple legs once on the moon, however I suspect that the reason for the 2 arms, 2 legs is so it can intuitively be controlled remotely by a single human.

Re:"Moonwalk" is a bit of a misnomer... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 months ago | (#45389721)

Are legs really required for EVA?

"Giant steps are what you take. Walking on the moon.
  I hope my legs don't break! Walking on, walking on the moon..."

Gigglesnort (1, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 months ago | (#45387769)

but two major components, a new type of lunar lander, now called Morpheus, and

(puts on sunglasses) What if I told you... There is no money to go to the moon?

Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45387785)

While the technology is there, can the United States afford to send a mission to the moon when so many of its citizens are starving, unemployed and unable to afford health care?

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1, Offtopic)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 months ago | (#45387865)

While the technology is there, can the United States afford to send a mission to the moon when so many of its citizens are starving, unemployed and unable to afford health care?

The American Dream... now available in Diet.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (3, Interesting)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 5 months ago | (#45387931)

Yes. The tech and space race during the cold war drove huge demand for technical and specialized labor, as well as immense demand for the resources and know-how to educate such a workforce (an increasingly educated workforce generally means a more productive one). Even if there isn't an immediate product being produced, you're still drawing more people into higher paying jobs, and giving them experience that will benefit them for their careers well after a given project is done. The economical benefits of even pie-in-the-sky research are positive and long lasting.

And before somebody says anything, no this is not a broken window fallacy. A BWF would be to say the money put into building the rockets is value added. This is a different argument.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (3, Insightful)

Fwipp (1473271) | about 5 months ago | (#45387949)

NASA's budget represents about 0.5% of the U.S. national budget. I think we can probably find _something_ to cut (say, maybe getting in a few less wars). Or maybe we could raise taxes on the 400 Americans who control more wealth than 150 million other Americans?

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388115)

Military has alread been drastically cut in the last year.
Taxes on the rich have already gone up in the last year.

Why not cut the $1.8 Trillion expected cost of the ACA since it appears to be a complete failure and based on nothing but lies.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (2)

c0lo (1497653) | about 5 months ago | (#45388191)

Why not cut the $1.8 Trillion expected cost of the ACA since it appears to be a complete failure and based on nothing but lies.

This [usaca.org] is expected to cost $1.8 trillion?

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388501)

>Military has alread been drastically cut in the last year.
Yes. And it's still more bloated and larger than the next 10 or so largest military budgets in the world. It needs cut further. Let's cut the f-35, the f-22, drop iraq, afghanistan, s. korea, and israel.
While we're doing that, let's get taxes on the rich to the same rate as everyone else. Capital gains are income, tax them like it.

Then you can start bitching about nasa or ACA.

Idiot

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 5 months ago | (#45391369)

>Military has alread been drastically cut in the last year. Yes. And it's still more bloated and larger than the next 10 or so largest military budgets in the world. It needs cut further. Let's cut the f-35,

It should at least be reevaluated by an independent group. Many countries have already dumped several tons of money into it. If it can be completed for considerably less than has already been put into it, then it needs to be finished. If there's no chance in hell of that, then it does need to be cut.

the f-22,

Are you a fucking idiot? It's already been tested and used in theater. You don't cut something that's already in service unless it's obsolete, or has sub-par performance. You can argue for drones all you like, but they aren't sufficient to replace an F-22 yet. Unless you wish to sink a ton more more money into developing more drones.

drop iraq,

I didn't realize there were any time zones on the planet that were a year behind everyone else. Good to know.

afghanistan,

Agreed!

s. korea,

Are we at war with South Korea? Or are you suggesting that we just let them be overrun by the DPRK?

and israel.

While I do get sick of some of the bullshit that Israel pulls, I'm not sure abandoning them would be a great thing to do. I'm not sure what exactly would happen to the middle east if they weren't there. Suddenly there would be no boogeyman for all of the other nations to point to. And then they'd only have each other to turn on. Since most of the other nations in that region are considerably weaker, they'd be a lot easier to attack. Not that we would give a damn if it wasn't for the oil.

While we're doing that, let's get taxes on the rich to the same rate as everyone else. Capital gains are income, tax them like it.

Then you can start bitching about nasa or ACA.

Idiot

On one hand I agree with you. Some of the shit that goes on at the uber rich end of the pay scale is appalling. On the other, I'm truly amazed at how being successful has become a stigma. I feel it is, to some degree, the duty of the better off to help the less fortunate. But that doesn't mean that everyone has a right to a 75 inch state of the art television and a car with $5000 rims and a 25 Kw stereo, etc. I'd love to see the tax code greatly simplified. Hell, I'm all for a flat percentage tax on everyone for all income. As it is, the wealthy see the government as something they must do their best to avoid paying into and the poor see it as a trough they are entitled to. Now we have generations of rich being taught that they must hide their money and abuse the system in any way they can to keep as much as they can. Then there are generations of poor being raised to believe they are owed money and raised to navigate the system to get as much as they can out of it. It's a vicious cycle of greed that has to end.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 5 months ago | (#45388745)

It's amazing how people that want higher taxes pretty much universally want them for other people first, isn't it?

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#45393395)

That's because the middle class is already the most taxed, and the lower class doesn't have any money TO tax. Which leaves . . .

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 5 months ago | (#45387951)

Do you have any actual stats on starvation in the US? Because last time I checked that number was so low that it wasnt even tracked.

Dunno, comments like this just seem to be aimed at stirring up hysteria with no actual basis in fact.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#45388163)

Do you have any actual stats on starvation in the US?

There are a few fluke people that starve to death every year because they are stranded in the wilderness, or locked in a room, or an elderly person that breaks a hip and can't get up or call for help. Anorexic women also occasionally starve themselves to death. But the number of Americans that starve because of economic conditions is zero. The poorest region in America is the Mississippi Delta [wikipedia.org] , which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45389427)

But the number of Americans that starve because of economic conditions is zero. The poorest region in America is the Mississippi Delta [wikipedia.org] , which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.

I don't think that you understand that obesity and hunger are not diametrically opposite concepts, as explained here [frac.org] , and here [nytimes.com] .

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#45391385)

I don't think that you understand that obesity and hunger are not diametrically opposite concepts

I don't think you understand that hunger is not "starvation".

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

murdocj (543661) | about 5 months ago | (#45388001)

When you look at it that way, clearly Russia, China, Japan, India, France, the UK, etc can't afford a space program either. Guess we better shut them all down.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388077)

The UK already has. Most of the UK "space program" involves delivering satellite broadcast TV.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 5 months ago | (#45391429)

The UK has a space hardware manufacturing industry. We make a lot of scientific and commercial sats. We just have no launch facilities, because physics says those need to be as close to equatorial as possible. We're too far north.

Re:Obligatory Poverty Comment.... (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#45390825)

Yes a nation can work on more then one initiative at a time.
Space Travel inspires people to be Engineers, Scientists, to take risks and look further. That means the kids have a reason to get more schooling and get a better education. Now this educated population will be better at surviving in a global economy, even if they don't get into aerospace.

We have programs available for people to get food if they need it and not starve. A lot of those who are starving do not take advantage of these programs, or do not manage them properly. There is only so much we can do.
Space Exploration, Manned or Robotic, means more jobs in the future requires higher skills. Means a living salary.

Er, guys? (2, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 months ago | (#45387793)

The first attempt resulted in the destruction of the prototype vehicle. If the second round of tests is successful,

It's times like these I wonder if the html BLINK tag was retired too early. Because that's a very, very big 'if', so big in fact that the atrocity that was BLINK might be justified. But not marquee, because screw you Microsoft. Sinner!

Re:Er, guys? (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 5 months ago | (#45394519)

That "if" is big enough to justify blink, marquee and strong tags. It's like if I tell you that I'm going to audition for a movie next week. Last time I practiced I accidentally set my hair on fire, but if I do well next week I'll be a big star.

Is this the best use of taxpayer money (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45387843)

NASA scientists programming robots to walk backwards to "Billie Jean" music?

Re:Is this the best use of taxpayer money (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45387897)

Or engineering robots to be smooth criminals...

Re:Is this the best use of taxpayer money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45389329)

There are still people starving in the world. So let's build something more useful.
Like a smoothie criminal.

Why bother with legs? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 5 months ago | (#45388007)

When the Martian rovers do so well on wheels? The wheel works, the leg is fiddly and invert-pendulumy. We have enough issues getting shit put into orbit and sent off to Mars/Moon/Alpha-Centauri, why are we dicking around with legs?

Re:Why bother with legs? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 5 months ago | (#45388233)

When the Martian rovers do so well on wheels? The wheel works, the leg is fiddly and invert-pendulumy. We have enough issues getting shit put into orbit and sent off to Mars/Moon/Alpha-Centauri, why are we dicking around with legs?

Well, Neil Amstrong took only a small step.
Meanwhile, police alleged that giant steps is what you take walking on the moon; someone need to prove the allegation.

Is "robonaut" the best choice? (1)

drgould (24404) | about 5 months ago | (#45388021)

That is, if you're going to send a remotely guided robot to the moon, is a bipedal walker the best choice?

As opposed to a conventional wheeled or even a quadrupedal rover.

I assume a bipedal walker is going to need sophisticated stability control (computational and mechanical) for every step it takes over rough terrain that a simple wheeled vehicle can just roll over.

Re:Is "robonaut" the best choice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45390697)

I think a quadrupedal robot should be the way to go. There are some things you cannot do with wheels, but I think it's no accident that most animals are four-legged. We evolved to two legs so we could use our hands for other purposes, but for a newly built robot it would be no problem to give it four legs and in addition two (or even more) arms. They are not constrained by an evolutionary past.

Re: Is "robonaut" the best choice? (1)

Sigg3.net (886486) | about 5 months ago | (#45399819)

Control: We seem to have a bit of a problem, sir.

HQ: Does it need a firmware update again?

Control: Not exactly, sir.

HQ: Well, then what? That's a multi billion dollar project you're talking about there, son. It's quite autonomous.

Control: Well. It fell over. Sir.

Gravity (1)

BringsApples (3418089) | about 5 months ago | (#45388109)

I wonder how they test this robot's ability to walk, considering that the moon's gravity is 16.6% of Earth's. Or are they taking that into consideration in the programing (and will simply adjust the code later, when on the moon)? Seems cool that gravity would be an item, coded into the robot's functions.

Re:Gravity (1)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#45393529)

Don't know about this particular one, but I've seen fractional G modeled by putting the test subject under water or suspending the excess weight from wires. Both those options would mess with testing stability though.

Robodummy (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 5 months ago | (#45388155)

What's it with the impersonation? A deeper insight into the the psyche of NASA.

Anyways; -- hands up! -- Anyone thinks that additional survey of the moon is
going to bring any significant discoveries?!

Re:Robodummy (1)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#45393575)

Let's say that you were an alien geologist dropped onto Earth. You get a couple of weeks to explore, with almost no equipment more complex than a rock hammer, an area smaller than Central Park in New York and bring back a total of a couple hundred kilos of samples for analysis. That's what we managed with Apollo.

Hands up anyone who thinks that there's nothing more to discover?

Wheeled Robots? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388259)

Aren't wheeled or 3+ legged robots easier to balance on the surface of any planet? Is the bipedal robot being made to simply mimic a human being?

Moonwalk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388533)

I don't think dancing is a good place for a robot to start when it just got its legs.

Re:Moonwalk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45393585)

If it walks toward you remember to say: "Gort Klaatu barada nikto"

Micheal "Childmolestin" Jackson (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388883)

And RIAA will sue NASA to Valhalla should they do the moonwalk.

Asimov would send them to Jupiter. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45388887)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_Unintentional

First it's moonwalking robots (1)

Chas (5144) | about 5 months ago | (#45389539)

Then it's creepy robots molesting little boys.
Then it's creepy little-boy-molesting robots paying for someone to have "his" kids.
Then it's creepy little-boy-molesting robots who paid for someone to have "his" kids OD'ing on prescription drugs!

Just say NO man!

Re:First it's moonwalking robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45389879)

+1 Weird!?

it's a girl! (1)

Plazmid (1132467) | about 5 months ago | (#45389565)

Robonaut's legs are designed for walking around the space station in microgravity, so they would be useless in gravity

BUT, the same people working on robonaut are building a female humanoid robot for the DARPA robotics challenge, which could very well walk on the moon

Robonaut? (1)

pgpalmer (2015142) | about 5 months ago | (#45394299)

An astronaut moves through space.
An aquanaut moves through water.
So does a robonaut... move through robots?

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