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NASA preps an android Valkyrie for Mars

Update Date: Nov 18, 2015 11:08 PM EST

NASA has set the challenge. They are prepping up a humanoid robot named Valkyrie and make it autonomous and dexterous. NASA has chosen two university groups to compete in developing the prototype robot, Robonaut 5 or R5 and its ultimate goal is to send it for missions to Mars.

Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University will go up against each other in the Space Robotics Challenge in 2016. The robots can be helpful companions in the expeditions to Mars.

"Likely NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet," explains Nicolaus Radford, the project lead at NASA's Dexterous Robotics Lab. "These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers and when the humans arrive, the robots and humans will work together...[in a] tight relationship."

The R5 robot measures 6 feet tall and weighs 290 pounds. It has cameras in the head area, the chest, arms, the knees and the feet as well as sonar in its abdomen. R5 also uses LIDAR a remote-sensing technology using reflected laser light to measure objects. It also has a glowing NASA logo on its chest that could give Iron Man a run for its money.

Last June 2015, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held the finals for its multiyear Robotics Challenge organizations from around the world built robots and put them through rigorous tests. The MIT and Northeastern groups were selected from among the competitors.

"NASA often looks to the commercial and academic sector to help advance the technologies we will need to explore beyond low-Earth orbit," Stephen Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The MIT team will be led by Russ Tedrake while the Northeastern team will be headed by Taskin Padir. Both research groups will be working on a software to make R5 perform better and ready for the Mars expeditions.

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