We’ve done lots of posts here on GFR about NASA, many of which bemoan the state and the budget of the beleaguered agency. Now NASA has something that just may solve all of its problems — a superhero robot.
Valkyrie, who shares a name with female characters from Norse mythology who decide which soldiers die and which live, but who looks more like Iron Man, has the stature of a superhero at 6 feet tall and 275 pounds — it even sports a glowing NASA logo on its front. Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston built Valkyrie in just nine months as part of this month’s DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. This means Valkyrie will have to prove its disaster-thwarting meddle by driving vehicles, clearing debris, cutting through obstructions, climbing ladders, turning valves and knobs, and other physical tasks that any life-saving superhero needs to be able to perform.
In addition to helping with disaster relief, Valkyrie’s creators hope that it will be chosen to go to Mars. All of the Mars colonization proposals out there plan on using robots to help set up the settlements. In fact, they call for sending robots to the Red Planet before humans so they can start digging underground facilities, raising structures, and extracting resources from soil. They could also serve as the welcome wagon for the first human Mars colonists. And then, once they’re smart enough, they’ll just do away with the humans and claim Mars for themselves. It’s a perfect plan, except for that whole lack of reproduction detail. But maybe they can watch some Battlestar Galactica for tips on how to work around that one.
Some of the engineers who helped develop Valkyrie also worked on Robonaut, the first humanoid robot to visit the ISS. Robonaut 2, who sometimes goes legless, hitching rides on rovers, and other times wears weird leg-like appendages that bend the wrong way, will soon get fitted with special zero-gravity climbing legs so it can work on the ISS. This is totally the setup for the Gravity sequel. But Valkyrie, with its 44 degrees of freedom, could undoubtedly kick Robonaut’s ass if they squared off.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials will take place on December 20-21, with the finals taking place late next year. The winners will snag a cool $2 million — a superhero’s bounty if ever there was one!