Robonaut Checks In

by Michael Mullaney on January 9, 2013

News sites were abuzz today with a fun update from 400 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. NASA on Monday released new video footage of its friendly-faced robotic astronaut, Robonaut 2, working aboard the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has been running tests and experiments with R2, as the robot is called, since it was ferried to the ISS early 2011. The goal is for R2 to one day serve as an assistant or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks, or perform overly dangerous or complex tasks.

I love a good space robot news story, but this one is particularly exciting because Rensselaer senior Nathaniel Quillin played a role in developing R2. Nathaniel, a computer and systems engineering major, seen in the photo above, spent two semesters and three summers at Johnson Space Center near Houston working directly on the R2 project. That is a hugely impressive and prestigious level for any researcher to be functioning at—it’s pretty amazing that Nathaniel got to work on this stuff as an undergraduate student.

During his time at NASA, Nathaniel wrote the computer code used to help debug R2’s hardware. Additionally, he helped write code for the graphical user interface that NASA researchers use to control R2. This control software creates 3-D visualizations that allows researcher to see how R2 will carry out their commands, prior to sending the actual commands for the robot to execute. All in all, he estimates he contributed hundreds of thousands of lines of code.

Click here to check out the video footage on NASA’s website, shown as part of an interview with Robonaut project lead Ron Diftler. Click here to read a newspaper story on Nathaniel and his work with R2.