Robot would join ranks of hard hats

March 15, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

It looks like a giant metallic beetle or maybe Star Wars' R2D2 after a diet, but the $337 million space robot being built by Martin Marietta Corp. is expected to become America's first full-time construction worker in space.

The 6-foot, one-legged, two-armed mechanical creature is being designed and built by engineers at Martin's Aerospace Division in Denver and is to be used in the construction of the Space Station Freedom sometime later this decade.

One big advantage the robot will have over other space station construction workers or crew members is that it will have "eyes," or video cameras, on each of its wrists as well as at the top of its oblong body.

This is no dumb tin can, Martin officials stress. In its final phase of development, the robot will be blessed with the thinking power (artificial computer intelligence) to operate on its own.

Kerry Masson, a spokeswoman for Martin's Denver operations, said yesterday that the robot will be programmed to respond to verbal commands. "If you say, 'Go out and repair that battery,' it will move out on its own. It will know how to unscrew the four bolts, remove the battery and replace it with a new one. It won't need any manual control," she said.

Its five-jointed arms are designed to have the dexterity to allow the robot to maneuver into hard-to-get-at places, and its "hands" will be able to work with various tools, including wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers.

Ms. Masson said the first in-space testing of the robot, technically called a Flight Telerobotic Servicer, is scheduled to take place sometime in 1993. Before taking its first space shuttle ride, the robot is expected to undergo testing at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration laboratory in Greenbelt. She said the Martin robot could breed a whole new generation of metal creatures that could be used to perform hazardous chores on Earth such as going underwater to clear a mine field.

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