Astronauts cannot breathe in a vacuum and need considerable time to suit up before venturing into space, time that could be critical in an emergency,The nonbreathing Robonaut can be ready to go at a moment’s notice while the astronaut remains safely inside the space- craft. Because Robonaut is designed to work in space where it will float weightlessly, it does not need a full body but might eventually be outfitted with a single support leg. At present it consists simply of a torso with attached arms. Covered in a protective white synthetic material and surmounted by a sleek helmet, the robot resembles noth- ing so much as an Olympic fencer clad in the classic white jacket and protective headgear.
Robonaut is not autonomous. It is remotely controlled by a hu- man who sees three-dimensionally through two video cameras in its head that send their images to the operator’s eyes through special goggles.The operator’s hand is inserted into a data glove that faithfully converts movements into electronic signals, which the robotic hand obeys to mimic the operator’s hand movements. The artificial hand matches a natural one in size and shape, but it is less flexible. It has 12 degrees of freedom, and two more in the up–down and side-to-side movements of the wrist (all operated by electric motors), compared to the 22 degrees of freedom in the human hand. Robonaut’s thumb is opposable only to the pointing and index fingers, and this triad is used where dexterity is needed, whereas the remaining two fingers bend back and forth toward the palm to aid in grasping.While this is nominally a limitation, Robonaut’s designers note that it is still more dexterous than a human astronaut constrained by a spacesuit.
Operating the robot is an immersive experience that Robonaut’s creators call “tele-presence” even without feedback of force or tactile information from the hand (which is now under development).The operator tends to sense the robot’s body as his own, illustrated in one incident where the operator moved his feet when Robonaut dropped a tool, although the robot has no feet, and so the human’s own well- developed bodily intuitions help him control the remote hand. Robonaut has proven adept at handling an electric drill, giving injec- tions for medical emergencies, working with hardware components