In NASA’s eyes, the future of planetary exploration is robots. The space agency has been developing their humanoid R5 (also known as Valkyrie) robot with hopes that it could someday assist or even replace human astronauts in space missions. To make this dream of science fiction a reality, R5 is going to need some serious upgrades to become space-ready, and that’s exactly why NASA has sent two of their prototype R5 robots off to college. MIT and Northeastern University, the two lucky winners, will both receive their own R5 robot as well as NASA tech support and $250,000 for their two years of research and development. Both universities were chosen based on their performance at the DARPA Robotics Challenge that took place last summer.
NASA has given MIT the task of working on “Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments” while Northeastern University is tasked with “Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge.” Details on what exactly the two universities will be doing are scant, but we do know that they’ll be working on advanced algorithms so that R5 can eventually operate safely, consistently, and autonomously in harsh extraterrestrial environments like Mars. NASA is hoping that extensive R&D such as this could make R5 a viable robotic astronaut for future space missions and beyond.