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Valkyrie, the Metal Man on Mars

Valkyrie, a 6 foot 2 inch robot weighing at about 300 pounds and costing almost $2 million, will one day help humans colonize Mars.

NASA’s Valkyrie (R5) robot NASA R5 Valkyrie

Valkyrie, a 6 foot 2 inch robot weighing at about 300 pounds and costing almost $2 million, will one day help humans colonize Mars. (2) It was designed and built by John Space Center (JSC) Engineering Directorate during the 2013 DARPA Robotics Cahllenge (DRC) Trials. The name Valkyrie comes from Norse mythology and is designed to be a robust robot capable of performing in any conditions in space. It builds off its predecessor, the Robonaut 2, except with enhanced electronics, actuators, and sensing capabilities. (1)

But why make the robot seem so humanoid? “Valkyrie can currently walk over flat terrain by balancing her weight at all times,” stated Taskin Padir of Northeastern University. “That’s why it looks slightly different than human walking.” The ability to walk on soft or uneven terrain, he adds, is the next goal. Even now, space-based robots such as the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity have so far relied on wheels to get around. Another humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics has made headlines as being able to replicate navigating well across uneven terrain thanks in part to its hydraulic power. However, fluid pressure is not particularly well-suited to space as leaks might accompany it. As a result, Valkyrie must use less powerful, but more reliable electric actuators to keep her balanced. (2)

Following its appearance at the 2013 DRC Trials, the Valkyrie was improved and modified, mainly to increase reliability and durability. Also, the Valkyrie team partnered with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) to adjust the walking algorithms of the robot.

The Space Robotics Challenge, which is part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program and Centennial Challenges, took place June of 2017 with twenty teams. With $1 million on the table, teams will navigate simulated versions of the robot through a set of scenarios. The setup for this competition goes as follows: “In the not too distant future, R5 has arrived on Mars along with supplies ahead of a human mission. Overnight a dust storm damaged the habitat and solar array, and caused the primary communication antenna to become misaligned. R5 must now repair an air leak in the habitat, deploy a new solar panel, and align the communication antenna.” (2)

The following are specifications of the NASA R5 Valkyrie as stated from NASA (1)

Power/Battery

Valkyrie can be configured to run from a wall or from battery power. The custom dual-voltage battery is capable of running the robot for about an hour. When a battery is not in use, it can be replaced with a mass simulator and capacitor that simulates the mechanical and some of the electrical properties of the battery.

Head/Sensor Suite

Valkyrie’s head sits atop a 3 DOF neck. The main perceptual sensor is the Carnegie Robotics Multisense SL, with modifications to allow for IR structured light point cloud generation in addition to the laser and passive stereo methods already implemented. Valkyrie also features fore and aft “hazard cameras” located in the torso.

Arms

Each upper arm consists of 4 series elastic rotary actuators and when combined with the forearm has 7 joints. The arm has a quick mechanical and electrical disconnect between the first two joints that allows for easy shipping and service.

Forearms/Hands

Valkyrie features a simplified humanoid hand, with 3 fingers and a thumb. Each forearm consists of a single rotary actuator (realizing the wrist roll), a pair of linear actuators (realizing wrist pitch and yaw), and 6 finger and thumb actuators. The hands are attached to the ends of the arms with mechanical and electrical quick disconnects that allow for easy shipping and service.

Torso/Pelvis

The robot’s torso houses two series elastic rotary actuators (the first arm joint on either side), two series elastic linear

actuators that work in concert to realize motion between the torso and pelvis, and various computer and power facilities. The pelvis houses three series elastic rotary actuators: the waist rotation joint, and the hip rotation joint of each leg. The pelvis is considered the robot’s base frame, and includes two IMU’s.

Legs

Each upper leg contains five series elastic rotary actuators. The ankle is realized using two series elastic linear actuators working in concert. The leg has a quick mechanical and electrical disconnect between the first two joints that allows for easy shipping and service.

Specifications

Weight: 300 pounds

Height: 6 feet 2 inches

Battery Energy: 1.8kWh

Computers: 2 x Intel Core i7

Degrees of Freedom: 44

Though still in testing, the Valkyrie symbolizes the beginning of a possibility for colonization of planets far far away. Without leaving our own homes, we can build a colony from afar with robots and settle there when finished without the risk of a human element.

Works Cited

Kisliuk, Erin. “R5.” NASA, NASA, 23 Sept. 2015, http://www.nasa.gov/feature/r5/.

Young, Monica. “Meet Valkyrie, NASA’s Space Robot.” Sky & Telescope, 18 May 2017, http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/meet-valkyrie-nasa-space-robot/.

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