Space is a dangerous place. Sending humans there can be difficult, expensive, and risky. This is especially true when we are sending humans to new destinations in space for the very first time. Because of this, robots tend to pave the way in space exploration.
Robotic exploration has huge advantages. Sending robots on space-bound mission can be cheaper and easier to prepare for than sending humans. You can send robots to environments that are extremely hot/cold, have intense radiation, and are in a vacuum. Robots also don't need to be given food, water, oxygen or a place to poop. You could say they're pretty low maintenance (unless they break when they're say, on Mars, and then yea, we're pretty screwed).
Robots are often sent before humans and enable us to learn more about the most intense places in our universe. For these reasons, we did an entire episode on them! Check out some of the robots that are featured in: Robots in Space.
Segment at Minute 9 on Hulu
Robonaut 2 (the second series of Robonaut) is a human-like robot developed by NASA and GM. The unique part about Robonaut is that it is designed to work beside astronauts and with more dexterity than other space-bound robots (like the Canadarm for example). Because it is designed to function similar to a human it can use the same tools that astronauts use and perform tasks that would be too dangerous or even too mundane for its human coworkers. The completed Robonaut 2 was launched to the ISS in 2011 and recently received a pretty cool addition – his legs – this year! Each "foot" has sensors to "see" as well as grappling mechanisms to hold onto things. Pretty awesome.
Robo-Glove and X1 Exoskeleton
Segment at Minute 13 on Hulu
Because much of the technology that was developed to create Robonaut was used in Robo-glove and the X1 Exoskeleton, these two devices are considered spinoffs from the Robonaut program. The Robonaut team achieved an “unprecedented level of hand dexterity,” and thus decided to apply this technology to a wearable robot: the Robo-Glove. This glove allows an astronaut to hold tools while in a bulky pressurized suit for a long period of time. Astronauts may be working outside the International Space Station for hours at a time. Holding onto tools with bulky astronaut gloves can be difficult and cause hand and finger fatigue. This device can be worn and easily do that gripping for the astronauts, so they can focus their mind and energy elsewhere.
The X1 Exoskeleton is another wearable device that fits around your hips and legs. In consists of torque-controllable joints, which means each joint can be powered to move on its own or provide the user a certain level of resistance. This device has benefits for astronauts as well as those here on Earth.
Astronauts require long periods of physical exercise to thwart off pesky muscle atrophy and bone loss in a weightless environment. Instead of hours of low-intensity workouts on a treadmill, this device can provide astronauts a shorter, more intense lower body work-out.
On Earth, it can be used to enable paraplegics or people with lower body injuries to walk. Part of our segment (at 16:15 on Hulu) focused on a man with paraplegia who uses the X1 Exoskeleton to walk, so make sure to check it out!