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Old March 23 2011, 03:21 AM   #14
Fleet Captain
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Location: Virginia USA
Re: NASA sending Robonaut 2 (R2) to ISS in Sept.2010

I'm disappointed by the failure to implement terminology to distinguish between the various types of mechanical assistance equipment:

  1. Some are basically remote operated manipulators with some minor feedback mechanisms to alleviate problems with alignment and grasping pressure. These require constant direction by a human at a control station. Not of much use reducing labor costs, but pretty handy in dangerous environments like deep water or high radiation.
  2. Some have every motion (or nearly every motion) planned in advance by human specialist for precise material manipulation, often for repeated manufacturing processes. This type might require little real time supervision but has almost no capability to adapt to unexpected circumstances. Often provisions have to be made to exclude humans from the machine's work area to preclude injuries.
  3. The real challenge is designing and programming a machine that can adapt to unexpected circumstances in it's work space without constant human intervention (with fast two way communications). Simple efforts include the Mars rovers, but they have to perform many of their activities at excruciatingly slow speeds so that humans back on Earth can monitor them to improve their survival prospects.

I'm thinking the term "robot" exaggerates the capabilities of many of these systems, especially the first two types.

While there's value in manipulators designed to share tools with a human, alternative equipment like a power screwdriver/impact wrench or a mini hand that connects directly to the system's "wrist" might be very useful in some circumstances. There might also be situations where differnt distances between joints and greater range of motion at the joints would be essential.
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