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Northeastern's NASA robot meets the public

Valkyrie landed at Northeastern on Wednesday, marking the first time that the 6-foot-2-inch, 275-pound humanoid robot has interacted with the public.

There was a demo: As part of an hourlong presentation, the robot walked across the carpet in the event space on the 17th floor of East Village, turned to face the audience, and then waved, eliciting a surge of laughter.

“We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what we can do with humanoid robots,” said Taskin Padir, Valkyrie’s principal investigator and asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering. “But I’m a true believer that one day robots will be game-changers in our lives.”

Valkyrie was developed by NASA, which selected Northeastern to per­form advanced research and devel­op­ment work on the humanoid robot pro­to­type.

According to NASA, Valkyrie is primed to play an important role in future deep space exploration and could be sent to Mars to complete tasks before human crews arrive.

Led by Padir, an interdisciplinary team of Northeastern students and faculty will work on the robot’s ability to com­plete mission-specific tasks such as exiting an air­lock, using a ladder to reach Mars’ sur­face, and repairing equip­ment.

Valkyrie is equipped with video cameras and sensors to navigate her surroundings as well as the ability to interact with humans, but it won’t be easy to program her to perform human-like tasks: “From a research perspective, we know that we need to keep working hard on these platforms and these systems so they can be useful,” said Padir. “We are still trying to become good friends with this robot, and we’re looking forward to the next two years and beyond to be able to do that.”

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