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NASA asks people to help its humanoid robot see better

Washington:In its bid to help astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) focus on key space research, NASA is asking coders to create algorithms for Robonaut 2 or R2 that will improve its 3D vision to maintain the orbiting laboratory.

The “Robonaut Vision Tool Manipulation” contest offers a total of $10,000 in prizes for the best algorithms to help the first humanoid robot on the ISS see better.

Serving as an extra set of hands for ISS crew members, R2 is looking to help with the more mundane or repetitive tasks that are required for maintaining the million-pound laboratory — freeing up its human colleagues for critical science and repair work.

While astronauts can control R2 directly, making the robot more autonomous will make work on the station and on future deep space exploration missions more efficient.

One goal is to help R2 “see” better. In order to use a tool, R2 relies on an algorithm to determine a 3D representation of the tool.

The algorithm works with the robotÂ’s control system and allows R2 to create a plan for grasping objects and completing its tasks.

Existing algorithms assume that high-resolution images are always available but new algorithms are needed that can determine differences in objects based on noisy, stereo vision data.

“The objective for the contest is to create algorithms that will receive a pair of noisy stereo images of common space tools such as an Radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader, an EVA handrail or a softbox, among others, and determine the correct 3-D representation of the object in the image pair,” the US space agency said in a statement.

For example, R2 manages inventory using an RFID reader and fastens bolts with a drill.

The first Robonaut R1 was built as a ground prototype to explore the potential for a humanoid robot to help astronauts during spacewalks by preparing worksites and providing an extra pair of dexterous hands during maintenance tasks.

R2 was co-developed with General Motors (GM) through a Space Act Agreement.

R2 is a faster, more dexterous robot than the first iteration of Robonaut.

With more sensing, a greater range of motion and a safety system that allows it to work side-by-side with astronauts, R2 holds great potential to assist with space station activities.

The contest is supported by NASAÂ’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by NASAÂ’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI).