National Robotics Initiative strives to develop machines that can work alongside humans in Mars exploration and other areas.
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NASA is investing $2.7 million to kick off eight advanced robotics projects aimed at improving robot technology as part of its long-term goal of putting a human on Mars.
The projects, part of the White House's National Robotics Initiative, are tied to NASA's plans for an asteroid mission in 2025 and human exploration of Mars around 2035. The National Science Foundation managed the solicitation for the project proposals, each of which will receive between $150,000 and $1 million in funding.
NASA selected eight proposals from U.S. universities. The proposals include development of human avatar robots capable of exploring hazardous environments; active skins for tactile feedback; "tele-manipulation" of humanoid robots on rough terrain; and long, thin continuum robots.
The research will tackle challenges in "co-robotics," where robots assist and perform functions alongside humans.
"Where robots were once kept in cages and separated from people, we are now seeing robots built to co-exist with humans, helping people at work and throughout society," NASA said on its National Robotics Initiative (NRI) website. "The NRI is targeting these new machines that will work with humans as co-workers, co-explorers, co-inhabitants, co-drivers, creating and capturing the new discipline of co-robotics."
NASA has placed a robot, Robonaut 2, on the International Space Station, with a goal of performing tasks that are mundane or too dangerous for astronauts. Its first job was to monitor air velocity. The agency points to Robonaut as an example of the practical ways robots can assist its missions.
The purpose of NASA's latest robotics initiative is to encourage research that combines computer and systems science with mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering and social, behavioral, and economic sciences, NASA said in a statement on the project awards. In addition to helping with space exploration, the robotics advances may have applications in manufacturing and business.
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