NASA has unveiled Valkyrie, an advanced humanoid "superhero" robot that appears female and may one day be used to explore Mars.
The “Valkyrie” robot, designed by NASA scientists to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), is 1.9-metres tall and weighs 125 kilograms. In Norse mythology, the Valkyrie were female figures who chose which fighters who died in battle were worthy of Valhalla.
While officially a genderless humanoid robot, Valkyrie was designed to have female characteristics from the start, IEEE reports. It has a pronounced chest area, with internal motors that glow like Iron Man, and padding to protect it from a fall.
'We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it you’d say wow, that’s awesome.'
- NASA's Nicolaus Radford
The flexible Valkyrie has 44 degrees of axes of rotation in its joints and is powered by a battery backpack, which can keep it operating for an hour. It can walk on its own, pick up objects and manipulate objects and tools, which are part of the requirements for the DARPA challenge, CNET reports.
"We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it you’d say ‘wow, that’s awesome’", said NASA JSC's Dexterous Robotics Lab Project leader Nicolaus Radford.
Valkyrie’s left and right arms are interchangeable, so they can be quickly switched out or replaced in just a few minutes if damaged.
The robot is also covered in soft cloth, resembling clothes, which act as protection and also make it more appealing to human coworkers.
"We take our soft goods very seriously,” Mr Radford told IEEE. "Our robot is soft. If you brush against it while you’re working, you don’t want to feel this cold, hard metal. You want it to feel natural, like you’re working next to another human being. The soft goods, the clothes we put on the robot, give it that feel, that appearance of being more comfortable to be near."
Valkyrie will compete in the DARPA challenge, which aims to create robots that can be used in dangerous environments like nuclear spills. In the challenge, robots will be put through their paces and asked to do drive, climb a ladder, walk over uneven terrain, clear debris, break down walls and connect a fire house.
NASA uses the contest as a way to develop robots that may one day be used to explore our universe, saying the technology is “critical for long-term human space exploration.”
“We want to get to Mars. Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers and when humans arrive, the robots and humans will work together,” said Mr Radford.