It’s always exciting when a new robot arrives in your lab. Usually, the more expensive the robot is, the more exciting it is. With the possible exception ofBoston Dynamics’ ATLAS, NASA’s Valkyrie has got to be one of the most expensive humanoid robots ever made, and last year, NASA promised to give away (or, at least, lend) three of them to universities in the hope that Valkyrie will learn some new skills.
Within the last few weeks, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which teamed up with Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., took delivery of their fancy new robot, as did MIT and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. We talked to Holly Yanco at UMass Lowell and Taskin Padir at Northeastern, along with Sethu Vijayakumar at Edinburgh and Russ Tedrakeat MIT, about what it’s like to have a smokin’ hot space robot show up on your doorstep in a bunch of pieces. We also asked them what they’ve told NASA that they’re going to do with it, and what they actually plan to do with it. NASA, you will be happy to hear that these last two things are only slightly different. Loyal Valkyrie fans will have immediately noticed that this version of Valkyrie (a “Unit D”) has some upgrades. Most notably, the robot’s head has been redesigned in order to accommodate a Multisense SL camera and LIDAR array, the same kind of “head” that ATLAS has. Also, the cameras in Valkyrie’s legs have been removed, the range of motion of the pelvis has been increased, and the fabric leg covers have been replaced with a plastic shell that incorporates new fans to help keep the robot cool as it attempts more dynamic walking tasks. There are some other minor upgrades to improve Valkyrie’s modularity and make the batteries safer, but the big deal is the Multisense, since it will allow people with experience doing perception on ATLAS to translate much more easily to working with Valkyrie. This particular Valkyrie will live at the NERVE (New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation) Center at UMass Lowell, which is basically a big playground for robots, by which I mean a test area for robots. This is ideal, since part of NASA’s grant involves providing access to teams participating inNASA’s Space Robotics Challenge.
Meanwhile, across the pond, another Valkyrie arrived in pieces at TheEdinburgh Centre for Robotics at the University of Edinburgh, and was put back together again.At Edinburgh, this Valkyrie will be the centerpiece of the “Robotarium” at the Center for Robotics. Along with world-class robotics research and testing facilities, Edinburgh also has funding to train more than 80 robotics PhD students over the next decade. A Valkyrie ended up here after years of close collaboration with NASA, and it looks like it’s going to have a fabulous new home.
Last but certainly not least, a third Valkyrie was delivered to Russ Tedrake at MIT.
(Excerpt of online article “NASA’s Valkyrie Humanoid Upgraded, Delivered to Robotics Labs in U.S. and Europe” written by Evan Ackerman. Posted on May 4, 2016 on spectrum.ieee.org. Photo credit: Eric Marcoux)