Meet Valkyrie, NASA's "Superhero" Robot With a Glowing Blue Heart

NASA's entrant in this year's DARPA Robotics Challenge is a 1.9-meter tall, 125 kilogram, 44-degree-of-freedom battery-powered humanoid robot named Valkyrie (or "Val" for short). And yeah, she's pretty badass.

Officially designated "R5" by NASA, Val was designed to be a high-powered rescue robot, and is capable of traversing uneven terrain, climbing ladders and using tools. It can even drive.

Via IEEE Spectrum's in-depth writeup on Valkyrie:

A team from NASA's JSC in Houston, in partnership with the University of Texas and Texas A&M and with funding from the state of Texas itself, built the robot for the [DARPA Robotics Challenge, aka "DRC"], which will hold a preliminary competition later this month. JSC is a Track A team in the DRC; along with five other Track A teams with their own robots, JSC will be competing against Track B and C teams, each one of which will have an ATLAS robot from Boston Dynamics. In addition, Track D teams (which have no DARPA funding) will be entering their own robots.

The challenge created by DARPA involves tasks like walking over uneven terrain, climbing a ladder, using tools, and driving. This means that Valkyrie has to be capable of operating in the same spaces that a person would operate in, under the control of humans who have only minimal training with robots, which is why the robot's design is based on a human form. The overall goal of the DRC is to help drive innovation towards robots that are able to take over from humans directly, without needing any special accommodations. In that context, a human form makes sense because we're humans, and these robots will be doing the jobs that we don't want to be doing because they're too dangerous.

To that end, Valkyrie has seven degree of freedom arms with actuated wrists and hands, each with three fingers and a thumb. It has a head that can tilt and swivel, a waist that can rotate, and six degree of freedom legs complete with feet equipped with six-axis force-torque sensors. Unlike the ATLAS robots, Valkyrie is battery powered and operates without a tether. A removable battery in its backpack is good for about an hour of activity, and a human can swap in a fresh battery for a spent one in a matter of minutes. Also removable are Valkyrie's limbs: in just a few more minutes, a damaged arm can be swapped out for a new one, and the left arm can even be swapped with the right arm, since they're identical in construction. Things are bound to go wrong during the DRC, and the ease with which Valkyrie can be fixed is a potentially significant advantage.

Super rad. Can't wait to see how NASA's automaton fares in this year's competition!

[IEEE Spectrum]