These new legs will help Robonaut climb outside the space station

Robonaut 2 — the robot voted most likely to be NASA's first astromech droid — has just been fitted with its first pair of prototype legs. Once perfected, the appendages will provide it with the mobility needed to help with tasks both inside and outside the space station.

A legless version of R2 has been undergoing experimental trials on the ISS since February 2011, but the bot is attached to a support post, so its mobility is strictly limited.

The new legs, funded by NASA's Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will give R2 the mobility required to perform regular and repetitive tasks both inside and outside the ISS, freeing up the crew for more critical work, like scientific research.

NASA writes,

"NASA has explored with robots for more than a decade, from the stalwart rovers on Mars to R2 on the station," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "Our investment in robotic technology development is helping us to bolster productivity by applying robotics technology and devices to fortify and enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety in space."

Once the legs are attached to the R2 torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of 9 feet, giving it great flexibility for movement around the space station. Each leg has seven joints and a device on what would be the feet called an end effector, which allow the robot to take advantage of handrails and sockets inside and outside the station. A vision system for the end effectors also will be used to verify and eventually automate each limb's approach and grasp.

NASA engineers have built the legs and R2 will be receiving them early next year. The new legs are designed for work both inside and outside the station, but upgrades to R2's upper body will be necessary before it can begin work outside the space station.

More here and here.

Image via NASA.