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Will this be the first humanoid on Mars?

21:27 04 May 2016 Author :   The Staff

A 'superhero robot' is being designed by Nasa to help astronauts on a mission to Mars.

Named Valkyrie, the 6.2-foot, 275lb humanoid machine has been under development by the space agency for a number of years.

Now Nasa has teamed up with two leading universities to help develop the machine's dexterity and artificial intelligence for deep space missions.

The latest prototypes - officially named R5 - have been given to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Northeastern University in Boston.

They have Iron Man-style glowing chest emblems that contain linear actuators to help with waist movement.

Their power source comes from a battery in a backpack that lasts for around an hour.

Sensors include sonar and Lidar, and operators can see what the Valkyries are doing on cameras attached to their heads, arms, abdomens, and legs.

In two years, the universities will be asked to enter their modified R5s into Nasa's Space Robotics Challenge.

Here, the machines will compete against each other to prove they have the capability to survive on a deep space mission to the red planet. 

'Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,' said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Nasa's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

The two university groups were chosen through a competitive selection process from groups entered in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) Robotics Challenge.

They also will receive as much as $250,000 a year for two years and have access to onsite and virtual technical support from Nasa.

R5 is an update to its existing Robonaut, which currently on the 260-mile-high ISS, performing mundane cleaning chores and fetching things for the human crew.

Each leg - 4 feet, 8 inches long - has seven joints. Instead of feet, there are grippers, each with a light, camera and sensor for building 3-D maps. 

Nasa engineers based the design on the tether attachments used by spacewalking astronauts.

R5, however, will also venture outside on spacewalks. Nasa says that's where the real payoff lies.

A robot could stay out in the vacuum of space for days, weeks or even months, clinging to the station. Meanwhile, human spacewalkers are limited to eight or nine hours. 

For base camps on the moon and Mars, robots could be deployed in advance and get everything running before the humans arrive — and stay behind when they leave. 

And if there's a chore too risky for humans 'we could let the machine go out and sacrifice itself,' Robert Ambrose from Nasa's Johnson Space Center. 

'And that's OK. It's not human. We can build another one. We'll build one even better.'

Nasa isn't the only space agency banking on the help of robots for deep space missions.

Last week, Chinese space agency's main contractor, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, unveiled a space robot that looks remarkably similar to the Marvel comic book hero.

As well as featuring the signature colours of Iron Man, the robot has a glowing emblem similar to Tony Stark's arc reactor. 

The metallic red and gold robot is named 'Xiaotian,' which translates to 'Little Sky'. 

Chinese state news agency Xinhua says that the robot is capable of a series of 'complex manipulation tasks' in moon landings or missions to space stations and unmanned probes. 

Another Chinese news site claims the robot's hands have flexibility similar to that of human hands. 

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