Robot touches down at UMass Lowell

Published in The Boston Globe April 6 print

A robot designed to help on NASA missions now stands tall at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

The six-foot-tall, 300-pound NASA robot called Valkyrie, or Val for short, arrived Wednesday at UMass Lowell’s New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation Center.

Researchers at UMass Lowell and Northeastern University have teamed up to prepare Val to perform tasks such as building space bases, collecting samples, and operating machinery, said Holly Yanco, a computer science professor working on the project.

The robot arrived at 8 a.m. at the NERVE Center in seven pieces, Yanco said, and she and the team assembled it. Now the crew is testing programming to get Val to walk, she said.

“It kind of looks like an astronaut in a space suit,” she said. “The robot is fully together and has been through calibration steps … It’s still in the very early stages, but it’s up and running.”

A series of cameras, scanners, and sensors will help the robot be able to make sense of its environment, Yanco said.

Taskin Padir, an engineering professor at Northeastern, is the principal investigator on the project.

“Our goal is to make humanoid robots more reliable … so they can be practical,” Padir said. “When there are communication delays between the human operators and the robot, it will be important for the robot to execute tasks on its own.”

Val is one of four robots of its kind in the world, Yanco said. UMass Lowell is one of two schools to receive one from NASA. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the other one, she said.

 

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