Edinburgh scientists build ‘Power Ranger’ robot for Mars

Robots need maintenance too (Picture: SWNS)
Robots need maintenance too (Picture: SWNS)
2
Have your say

Scientists have unveiled a robot which is set to carry out high-risk tasks on Mars instead of humans.

200 Voices: find out more about the people who have shaped Scotland

Prof Sethu Vijayakumar of Edinburgh University's Robotics dpeartment with robot Valkyrie. Picture: SWNS

Prof Sethu Vijayakumar of Edinburgh University's Robotics dpeartment with robot Valkyrie. Picture: SWNS

Nasa Valkyrie is an autonomous robot, largely capable of performing tasks without human control, and is also likely to work alongside astronauts on missions.

The £2million humanoid is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world and is the result of a collaboration between a team from Edinburgh University and Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The white robot looks similar to a modern Power Ranger as it stands at 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 19 stone.

It is expected that Valkyrie could begin its Mars missions as early as 2020, although humans are not expected to follow until at least 2030.

Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, 46, director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said autonomy had to be built into the robot.

He said: “We’ve had trips to the moon and astronauts inhabit the International Space Station, but when you start thinking about slightly further-away planets such as Mars there are additional challenges.

“You are no longer able to tele-operate robotic systems.

“You can’t move a joystick and have it respond in real time because of the time delay and distance from Earth.

“That means building significant autonomy into the platform.”

Remarkably, the machine is able to open doors, hold onto objects and even crawl into small spaces.

The bot is also expected to help out on earth with plans put forward for the Valkyrie platform to be used in disaster recovery and medical rehabilitation.

Professor Vijayakumar has credited popular science-fiction TV shows such as Westworld and Humans with assisting the creative process.

He added: “Science fiction has always been the forbearer of new technologies.

“People who are creative and in the arts have always been one step ahead of scientists in terms of thinking about innovative use of technology.

“We had to build in dexterous capabilities such as being able to open doors, grasp objects, recognising things for itself and crawling through narrow spaces.

“The real vision for the Nasa Valkyrie platform is to do what we call pre-deployment missions to Mars.

“These unmanned missions would go ahead of the astronauts and set up habitats.

“This would allow the astronauts to go and start their experiments without needing to construct labs and living quarters.

“When the astronauts return to Earth, the habitats that are expensive to transport and maintain would be looked after by this flock of humanoid robots.”