Last Updated 14 | 12 | 2013 at 20:30

Business & Technology

NASA Plans to Put Robot on Mars

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At 6'2", 275 pounds, NASA's latest robot look like a decent football player, but Valkyrie could be earmarked for another human profession, astronaut.

The android — which was built to be a search-and-rescue bot, comes with sonar equipment, cameras embedded from head to feet and a giant backpack battery. Its arms, legs and hips aren't as flexible as a person's, but it moves in a similar fashion, which could be important for studying the limits of human motion on Mars.

"Likely NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the [red] planet," Nicolaus Radford, head of the Dexterous Robotics Lab at NASA, said in a video about Valkyrie. "These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers. And when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together in conjunction."

Radford wants NASA's Mars-bound robots to help people build houses and lay the foundations of civilization on humanity's second planet, which means these android helpers are taking a big step up from their predecessors that were tasked with chores such as vacuuming.

Valkyrie, which looks so much like Iron Man it even has a glowing orb in its chest, will compete with other androids at the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's Robotics Challenge. The competition compares robots in categories such as strength and dexterity to determine which would be best to deploy in emergency situations that are too dangerous for people.

The competition looks stiff. DARPA's own robot, Atlas, shows an ability to avoid minor ground obstacles in this YouTube video, and has human-like details down to rotatable wrists. An android built by Team THOR (Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot) also demonstrates that its feet can adjust to changes on the ground.

None of these robots is likely to be the one that first visits Mars, but an advanced version of any of them could see the inside of a space shuttle in the not-too-distant future.

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