A new robot NASA built to help astronauts in space greeted its human commander at the International Space Station with a handshake, and gave a message in sign language that said: "Hello, world."
Robonaut 2's handshake with its commander Daniel Burbank, on the International Space Station is historic because it is the first handshake between a human astronaut and a robonaut in space.
Fox News reports a cheer went up in the control room in Huntsville, Ala., as Burbank took R2's right hand and pumped it up and down.
Burbank said as he shook the robot's hand: "The first human-humanoid handshake in space."
Burbank added: "For the record, it was a firm handshake. Very nice… nice job on the programming and all the engineering. Quite an impressive robot.”
According to Space.com, Robonaut 2, or R2, is a $2.5 million droid designed to help astronauts with complex chores needed to keep the space station running smoothly. NASA developed the robot in partnership with General Motors and is the first humanoid robot to fly in space.
According to Ron Diftler, Robonaut 2 project manager: "Today was a major step forward in R2's development. The crew and the robot are working extremely well together and we’re looking forward to all the opportunities that will develop from this collaboration."
NASA sent Robonaut 2 to the International Space Station in February 2011. The robot was carried on the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery. According to Space.com, Robonaut 2 consists of a torso, arms and a head equipped with camera. The robot is 3 feet, 4 inches (1.01 meters) tall and weighs 330 pounds (150 kilograms).
Astronauts at the Space Station have been testing R2 since it was delivered. A copy of the robot with a wheeled mobile base for moving around on different terrains is also being tested on Earth.
R2 has a twitter acccount @AstroRobonaut. The robot already has 52,786 followers and is gaining more. Fox News reports R2 tweeted, saying: "The handshake was definitely one of the highlights of the day, but I'm not done yet."
Another of R2's recent tweets, according to Space.com, read: "Did you catch that? I don't have a voice, but I sent you a message: Hello world ... in sign language! What a day! I passed my tests with flying colors!!!"
A NASA spokeswoman actually manages R2's Twitter account.
The Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, a space station crew member, poked fun at R2 on his Twitter account @astro_andre: "Now let's hope he's never heard of HAL9000, Skynet or Cylons."
Kuipers was referring to the "evil conspiring robot" theme that features regularly in science fiction movies. HAL featured in "2001: A Space Odyssey" as a conspiring computer, Skynet was an artificial intelligence system that plotted against mankind in the "Terminator" films, while Cylons were cyber-warriors from the "Battlestar Galactica" series.
Still on the theme of conspiring robots fuelled by human paronoia, Chris Matyszczyk on CNET points our attention to R2's leglessness and reports that in answer to a question on Twitter "where is your legs at," R2 replied: "@luckydog99 No legs yet. They're in development on the ground." Chris notes from the video of R2 shaking hands with Burbanks that the robot's shaking hand was directed at Burbank's knees. Chris speculates: "Perhaps jealous of the commander's legs, he intended to take them for his own. Or perhaps his innards are already bellicose and he simply wanted to have fun kneecapping him."
NASA station officials will be testing R2's onboard cameras. The cameras mounted on R2's head allows the robot to check on its own work and allows its human co-workers to see what the robot is seeing, according to Space.com. NASA engineers will also test the robot's ability to flip switches, push buttons and perform jobs requiring manual dexterity.
It is hoped that future models of R2 would do spacewalks.