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Nasa gives its space-faring robot assistant a pair of legs

The new limbs will allow the bot to cling to sockets inside and outside the space station, letting it take care of repetitive tasks for the humans onboard

Nasa has announced that after years of existence as a torso and a pair of arms, its humanoid space-faring robot Robonaut 2 will finally be getting a pair of legs.

Robonaut 2 or R2 (it’s the second iteration of the bot) was developed as a robotic assistant for astronauts in 2010 and has been undergoing experimental trials on board the International Space Station (ISS) since 2011.

It's currently attached to a support post in the space station's laboratory but the newly unveiled legs will give it the mobility it needs “to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the station,” says Nasa.

The legs themselves more closely resemble those of a robotic octopus than a huma’s. Each has seven joints and fully extended the pair has a span of nine feet, with each individual leg capped by an “end effector” – a specialised grip that will allow it cling to sockets inside and outside the station like a sloth navigating the underside of a tree.

Robonaut 2 was built in a partnership between GM and Nasa and weighs 150kg when legless. The bot’s head contains five cameras, four for visible light and a fifth for infrared. It already has a pair of arms that give it a wingspan of 8 feet, though it’s only capable of holding 9kg in Earth gravity.

Robonaut 2's predecessor, Robonaut 1, had a number of different detachable lower halves, including this Robotic Mobility Platform (RMP).

It can be controlled remotely either by operators in space or back on Earth, but Nasa says it doesn’t require constant supervision and can be set to work on repetitive, time-intensive tasks (such as cleaning handrails outside the station) allowing the human astro nauts attend to more critical matters.

"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."

The legs will be transported to the ISS early next year, but the effects of Nasa’s research will also be felt here on Earth: the space agency’s work developing robotic exoskeletons could be used to help individual suffering from disabilities.

Click here to read more about Robonaut 2