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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  12 Feb 2010

MOTORING: GM Take Leap in Robotic Technology


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NASA and General Motors are working together to accelerate development of the next generation of robots and related technologies for use in both the automotive and aerospace industries.

Using leading edge control, sensor and vision technologies, NASA and GM engineers and scientists came together through a Space Act Agreement at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to build a new dexterous humanoid robot capable of working side by side with people – whether that means helping GM create safer cars and safer manufacturing plants or assisting NASA astronauts on dangerous space missions.

The idea of using dexterous humanoid robots – human-like robots capable of using their hands to do intricate work – is not new to the aerospace industry. Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed for space travel, was built by the software, robotics and simulation division at Johnson in a collaborative effort with Defense Advanced Research Project Agency 10 years ago. Over the past decade, NASA has gained significant expertise in building robotic technologies for space applications, which have the potential to come in very handy as NASA returns to the moon.

“Our challenge today is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space,” said Mike Coats, Johnson’s center director. “Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, machines like Robonaut will expand our ability for construction and discovery.”

The partnership is creating technological advancements that will enable GM to develop safer vehicles and build them in safer plants. GM’s strategy is to develop assembly processes that integrate robotic technology with people. In addition, GM is actively looking for ways to apply the technology to develop leading edge advanced vehicle safety systems.

“For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants. When it comes to future vehicles, the advancements in controls, sensors and vision technology can be used to develop advanced vehicle safety systems,” said Alan Taub, GM’s vice president for global research and development. “The partnership’s vision is to explore advanced robots working together in harmony with people, building better, higher quality vehicles in a safer, more competitive manufacturing environment.”

Together, the two organizations, with the help of engineers from Oceaneering International Inc., were able to develop and build the next iteration of Robonaut – Robonaut2, or R2 for short – a faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced robot. This new generation is able to use its hands to do work beyond the scope of previously introduced humanoid robots. And it can safely do it side by side with people, a necessity both here on Earth and in space.

Both NASA and GM have long, rich histories of partnering on key technologies, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions, which laid the foundation for today’s in-vehicle navigation systems. GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle, the first vehicle to be used on the moon. This latest partnership is focused on the development and use of advanced humanoid robotic technology and is providing an opportunity for collaboration to move robotics to the next level.

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