Dyar, DafyddX (email@example.com)
Mon, 24 Jul 2000 13:45:18 -0700
The following news item shoots a hole in Gundam 0080, where they're still
trying to downsize robotic arms for human use over a century from now.
Robot Has the Hands of an Astronaut
By C. BRYSON HULL
Associated Press Writer
SPACE CENTER, Houston, TX (AP) - The scientists behind NASA's newest robot
have outfitted their creation with an ancient tool that's still a giant leap
And who can blame them? Look what hands did for human evolution.
Robonaut, the space agency's latest-generation robot, has a hand that no
other machine of its kind has ever had. Where other robots could simply pick
objects up with grippers, Robonaut has four fingers, a thumb and a handshake
to make a politician envious.
Robonaut's hands are nimble enough to pick up a small metal washer with
tweezers or squeeze the trigger on a variable-speed drill. One noted
roboticist calls Robonaut's hand "a masterwork development."
"It is a big leap for robotkind," says Red Whittaker, the founder of the
Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.
Designed as a remote-controlled space helper, Robonaut was built to work
with the same tools a spacewalking astronaut would use.
"The idea was essentially to create a surrogate for the astronaut," says
NASA engineer Chris Lovchik, who designed Robonaut's hands. "We're putting
the astronaut's training into the robot, and putting the robot out to
perform the drudgery in the hazardous conditions of space."
Hands alone aren't enough for that kind of work.
So Robonaut's designers at NASA Dexterous Robotics Laboratory have given
their creation an arm, a torso, a head and video-camera eyes. When the full
prototype is completed later this year, Robonaut will have a second arm and
hand and a single leg to provide hands-free support.
That's all downhill work after the challenge of building the hand and arm,
says project director Robert Ambrose.
"We've gone after the hardest part first," Ambrose says.
Though its grip is only about half that of a human and the arm can lift only
21 pounds, that's more than enough strength to work in the weightlessness of
Robonaut's controls are straight out of popular science fiction. The
controller wears a pair of stereoscopic goggles which display whatever
Robonaut's camera eyes see, and wears a sensor-filled glove to control the
hand and arm.
Just moving the glove tells Robonaut how far to extend its arms or twist its
wrist. Once the technology is refined, the glove will provide a sense of
touch to the operator, Ambrose says.
So far, operators have only their eyes to guide a hand that has about half
the dexterity of a human hand. Engineers measure dexterity by degrees of
freedom. While Robonaut has 12 degrees in its hand; humans have 22, Lovchik
The one-time watchmaker dissected several human hands at area medical
schools to learned how to translate the mechanics of flesh and blood into a
"The reason the human-like form is so important is because we are the ones
who have contrived the world," says Whittaker, who developed a robot to
facilitate cleanup of the failed Three Mile Island nuclear plant and another
one to search for meteorite fragments in Antarctica. "Robonaut is
well-suited since we have spacecraft for people, tools for people and all of
the devices we take for granted in everyday life, like doorknobs."
The three-year, $3,000,000 project was funded only to see if the lab could
produce a robot that can work with astronaut tools with the dexterity of a
suited astronaut, Ambrose says.
Though it was built with parts already rated to withstand the rigors of
space travel, Robonaut won't see orbit for at least five years, Ambrose
In space, Robonaut could prepare exterior worksites for astronauts, saving
valuable spacewalk time for more important tasks. But if early success is
any indicator, Robonaut's future applications are fairly limitless, Ambrose
"Wouldn't it be great if every spacecraft had a robot that could go out and
perform repair work while it's in flight?" Ambrose asks.
Ambrose envisions such an application for future planetary exploration
missions. The same Robonaut could be mounted on a land rover to explore an
unknown planet's surface in a configuration Ambrose likens to the Centaur,
the half-man, half-horse of Greek mythology.
On Earth, Robonaut could be used in the hazardous conditions found in
nuclear plants or petroleum refineries, and NASA says prosthetic makers have
expressed interest in the hand.
But Ambrose's goal is less specific. He simply wants Robonaut to perform
human tasks with high fidelity. Then, the technology's reach would be
limited only by its human operators and their imaginations.
"At the point when you stop thinking about it as a Robonaut and think of it
as an extension of a person, we've succeeded," Ambrose says.
This one doesn't invalidate anything, per se, but obviously has an effect on
the Jupiter Empire. There's already an Adrastea class ship, so this might
be assigned to a shuttle or other small ship.
New Moon Found Orbiting Jupiter
TUCSON, AZ. (AP) - Astronomers at the University of Arizona and their
Massachusetts colleagues say they have found a 17th moon orbiting Jupiter.
If confirmed, the three-mile-diameter moon would be the smallest known
satellite of a major planet and the first Jovian moon discovered in 21
"It's exciting. When you realize that you were the first person to lay eyes
on something that had not been seen before, that's kind of a good feeling,"
University of Arizona astronomer Jeff Larsen, who made the first
observations of the moon in October, said in Saturday's Arizona Daily Star.
Larsen works with the university's Spacewatch project, which uses a
79-year-old Kitt Peak telescope to survey the solar system for comets and
The group usually avoids the region around Jupiter because the solar
system's largest planet is bright, and reflected light can swamp the
telescope's sensitive electronic detectors. But last October, Spacewatch
observer Jim Scotti started a search for undiscovered Jovian moons.
When Jupiter was less than 370,000,000 miles from Earth - about as close to
our planet as it gets during its 12-year journey around the Sun - the
observers found what appeared to be a tiny moon.
The group contacted the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge
MA and scientists there analyzed the data and reached the same conclusion.
The search was spurred by the May 1999 discovery of an 18th moon circling
Uranus. That find was made by another University of Arizona researcher,
Erich Karkoschka, who reviewed 13-year-old pictures from the Voyager 2
"That's what motivated Jim to say, hey, let's go back and look again,"
Larsen said from the Spacewatch telescope on Kitt Peak, 55 miles southwest
For now, the object is designated S/1999 J1. If follow-up observations
confirm it is a moon, S/1999 J1 will get a name.
At three miles in diameter, it would be the smallest moon. Among Jupiter's
16 confirmed satellites, half are smaller than 32 miles in diameter. Mars
has the smallest confirmed moon, Deimos, which is about 7½ miles in
diameter. Earth's moon is 2,160 miles in diameter by comparison.
Jupiter and its moons are currently too close to the Sun to allow follow-up
observations immediately, but they should be accessible within the next
couple months, said University of Arizona planetary scientist Robert S.
McMillan, principal investigator of Spacewatch.
S/1999 J1 belongs to a sub-group of outer satellites that travel around
Jupiter in irregular orbits, he said. Those outer moons - believed to be
captured asteroids or comets - take about two years to complete an orbit,
and they are an average distance of 15,000,000 miles from Jupiter.
The last outer moon of Jupiter was discovered by Charles Kowal in 1974 and
named Leda. In 1979, the Voyager mission uncovered three new inner
satellites of Jupiter: Adrastea, Metis and Thebe.
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