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Robonaut 2: Helper, job stealer ... or Cylon?

August 24, 2011 |  1:39 pm

There are two things I know for certain: I love technology. And I hate technology.

And I'm not alone.

On Tuesday, The Times' Technology blog featured an article headlined "Human-like robot comes alive aboard space station,"  on the International Space Stations newest robot "helper."

A 330-pound humanoid robot was electronically awakened aboard the International Space Station this week, beginning its life as an astronaut's assistant.

The robot named Robonaut 2, or R2, will help with routine tasks such as holding tools and vacuuming air filters. The robot was sent up on space shuttle Discovery in February, but it wasn't powered up until now.

"Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the space station," NASA said.

Once fully built, NASA envisions R2 assisting astronauts during space walks as they make mechanical fixes to the outside of the space station.

As you can see from the picture, it's more Iron Man than R2-D2, although I suppose there's a hint of 3-CP0, what with the gold face mask and all.

Either way, it's a far cry from my favorite TV show as a child, "Lost in Space," which featured a goofy, tin-can-like robot that constantly spouted its famous line:  "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

Reader reaction to the NASA robot, though, fell somewhere in the love technology/hate technology camps.

From the technology lovers:

"Yeah, well, the thing is, Robonaut II came to the museum, and it was kinda cool." -- Beth Wilson

"unless space walk is safe. robots are the best "Tools" Its not a replacement for people because people can't do what a robot does nor can robots do what we do." -- Chung MingTuck, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

From the technology haters, practical branch:

"more unemployment" -- Larry Leise

"Someone has to build the robots. Wait. That could be "The robots!" You're right. More unemployment..."--Shaun Landry

"help with routine tasks such as holding tools and vacuuming air filters." Do the costs outweigh the benefits here????!!?! I COULD HAVE DONE THAT AND FOR HALF...NO EVEN LESS THAN HALF OF WHAT THAT THING COST." -- Andy Kim, Sogang University

 From the technology haters, slightly off-kilter branch:

"its cool untill it rips your head off." -- Ashley Owens, Seattle, Washington

"Frak me!!! Here come the Cylons!!!"-- Leah Yarnes, Tucson, Ariz.

If it asks anyone if they are Sarah Conner, kill it immediately!" -- Robert Goss-Kennedy, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"HAL... I'm scared Dave" -- Joshua Gardner, Opelika, Ala.

So what does it all mean?  Simple:

  1. If computers, smartphones, GPS systems and satellite TV are good, robots must be good too.
  2. There's some serious paranoia among Americans right now about jobs.
  3. No matter what the job, someone is willing to do it for less.
  4. A lot of people have watched far too many movies/TV shows. 
  5. Some of our readers have missed their calling as writers.

As for Robonaut 2, my only question is:  Why does it look like it's ready to fight?

"Danger! Danger, Mr. Astronaut!"?


A cloudy vision of U.S. spaceflight

SpaceX plans to dock capsule with space station this year 

Foreign nations push into space as U.S. pulls back

-- Paul Whitefield

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