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NASA is Letting MIT Play With Their Robots

NASA's humanoid robot with MITIt’s not like we didn’t see this team-up coming. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (or CSAIL, as the kids call it) has been working with robots for a while now, and NASA is looking to get on board.

NASA has announced that MIT’s CSAIL is one of two university research groups nationwide that will receive a 6-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot to test and develop for future space missions to Mars and beyond!

The robot, known as “Valkyrie” or “R5,” is part of NASA’s upcoming Space Robotics Challenge which aims to create more dexterous, autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans on “extreme space” missions. Could we be seeing a real life version of the robots from the movie Interstellar? Click the video to find out!

CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake and his team will develop algorithms for the robot to accomplish difficult tasks in space. You may remember his team from the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Thanks to their strong showing at the robotics challenge, Tedrake and his team will receive as much as $250,000 a year for two years from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directive.

According to, NASA is interested in humanoid robots because they can help or even replace astronauts working in extreme space environments. “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 the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development.”

Robots like R5 could be used in future missions either as early-stage robots performing mission tasks before humans arrive or as assistants working together with the human crew. While R5 was initially designed for disaster-relief maneuvers, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain: deep-space exploration.

As head of CSAIL’s Robot Locomotion Group, Tedrake has extensive experience with autonomous robots. Over the past three years, he led a team of more than 20 researchers to develop algorithms for a government competition to get another 6-foot-tall humanoid robot named ATLAS (Hey, we remember that robot!) to open doors, turn valves, drill holes, climb stairs, scramble over cinder blocks, and drive a car—all in the space of one hour!

So get ready everybody—NASA and MIT are sending their robots into outer space! It’ll only be a matter of time before we follow in their footsteps.

Photo credit: NASA via PhysOrg

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