Scientists and engineers at Heriot-Watt are involved in a project to develop a human-sized robot in preparation for missions to the Red Planet.
Experts will seek to improve the physical and computational abilities of the 1.8 metre, 125 kg machine, named Valkyrie after the female spirits of Norse mythology, in a collaboration between NASA and the University of Edinburgh through the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a joint initiative by Heriot-Watt and the University of Edinburgh.
Currently, the humanoid machine can walk on two legs and perform basic movements, such as holding and manipulating objects. Researchers will work to give the Valkyrie a much more sophisticated set of skills, enabling it to better understand and respond to its surroundings.
University scientists will seek to improve the robot's handling and walking capabilities, and use Valkyrie's sophisticated on-board sensors to help it make sense of its environment, and improve its manoeuvrability.
Researchers will also aim to further develop the robot's ability to interact closely and safely with humans and other machines.
The Valkyrie is the only robot of its type in Europe, and one of three prototypes in the world. NASA hopes to equip the Valkyrie to go to the Red Planet many years before astronauts are able to make the journey, for pre-deployment tasks and to maintain assets on Mars.
Valkyrie's human-like shape is designed to enable it to work alongside people, or carry out high-risk tasks in place of people.
Heriot-Watt's Professor David Lane, Director at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said, “This is a fascinating project, a huge scientific challenge for the Centre in conjunction with NASA, and one in which all colleagues will be happy to offer our support.”