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DIGITAL PEOPLE

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 moments 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 operators eyes through special goggles.The operators hand is inserted into a data glove that faithfully converts movements into electronic signals, which the robotic hand obeys to mimic the operators 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 updown and side-to-side movements of the wrist (all operated by electric motors), compared to the 22 degrees of freedom in the human hand. Robonauts 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, Robonauts designers note that it is still more dexterous than a human astronaut constrained by a spacesuit.

Operating the robot is an immersive experience that Robonauts creators call tele-presenceeven without feedback of force or tactile information from the hand (which is now under development).The operator tends to sense the robots 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 humans 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

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