Humobots in space

By | February 17, 2010

Despite the cancellation of NASA’s back-to-the-moon program, the next steps on the moon will likely be taken sometime in the next decade under human control. It’s just that the humans will be using a robot to take them. The space agency’s paradigm shift just might bring a shift to robotic telepresence as the next-best thing to walking on the moon.

Yes, they’ll be robots – but if current trends in robotics hold true, the robots could work like humans with superpowers, responding to the movements of a virtual-reality operator and sending back streams of video and data in near real time. Such “humobots” would represent one giant leap beyond the current generation of interplanetary rovers.

The small steps can already be seen in this month’s budget proposal for NASA: Among the robotic initiatives suggested to replace the canceled Constellation program is a mission to send out a lunar robot that “can be tele-operated from Earth and can transmit near-live video.”

X Prize synergy

That mission sounds very similar to the challenge posed by the Google Lunar X Prize, a program that sets aside $30 million in prizes for teams that develop video-capable lunar landers. And that’s music to the ears of Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive officer of the X Prize Foundation.

“The president’s budget is directly in line with what we’re trying to do with Google Lunar X Prize,” Diamandis told me over the weekend.

One of the X Prize teams, Odyssey Moon, is already partnering with NASA’s Ames Research Center to develop a lunar lander that could win the prize. Diamandis said the X Prize rules have been written to let teams earn revenue from NASA or other quarters, even during the prize-winning flight.

“We’re very open to working with NASA,” Diamandis said.

Months ago, NASA Watch’s Keith Cowing reported on rumblings that NASA might add millions of dollars to the Google Lunar X Prize kitty. Diamandis wouldn’t comment on how the space agency might participate, but he pointed out there was ample precedent for other funders to piggyback on the X Prize purse. Virgin Galactic, for example, paid to have its logo painted on the SpaceShipOne rocket plane for the flight that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. “That is completely within the rules,” Diamandis said.

via Humobots in space – Cosmic Log – msnbc.com.

Nice helmet.

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