Are there any humanoid robots on board the International Space Station to help out its astronaut occupants? If not, are there any plans to send humanoid robots to the ISS?
There are currently two "humanoid robots" on board the international Space Station (ISS). One was built by NASA with the help of various other government and non-government organisations and goes by the name of Robonaut 2 and is "a humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people." On 22nd of August 2013, it's been exactly 2 years since it was first powered up on the ISS:
Robonaut R2 being powered on now 2 years ago, on Aug. 22nd 2011 (Source: Robonaut Twitter page)
According to NASA Johnson Space Center's official web page on Robonaut (freeform excerpts):
A Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Our challenge is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space.
In the current iteration of Robonaut, Robonaut 2 or R2, NASA and General Motors are working together with assistance from Oceaneering Space Systems engineers to accelerate development of the next generation of robots and related technologies for use in the automotive and aerospace industries.
Robonaut 2 (R2) is a state of the art highly dexterous anthropomorphic robot. Like its predecessor Robonaut 1 (R1), R2 is capable of handling a wide range of EVA tools and interfaces, but R2 is a significant advancement over its predecessor.
It should be noted though, that Robonaut 2 currently on board the ISS doesn't yet have its own functioning legs. What we see in photographs is nothing more than a stand to which Robonaut 2 is mounted when helping with, for the time being, rather mundane tasks. Future plans include Robonaut 2 getting its own functional climbing legs (late 2013, if my sources are correct), enabling it to move more freely throughout the ISS, and to also perform tasks with slowly progressing autonomy. Climbing legs will be designed in such a way, to enable Robonaut 2 always having one of them stable on the ISS "floor", allowing it more precise and stable movement.
- YouTube video: ISS Update: Robonaut 2
(Published on 7 Jan 2013, ISS Update commentator Pat Ryan sits down with Dr. Ron Diftler, Robonaut 2 project lead, to discuss the tests going on aboard the International Space Station with Robonaut 2 and the future plans for the first dexterous humanoid robot in space.)
Kirobo is Japan's first robot astronaut, developed by Tomotaka Takahashi, to accompany Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station. Kirobo arrived on the ISS on August 10th 2013 on JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle Kounotori 4, an unmanned resupply spacecraft launched August 4th 2013 from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center. A twin to Kirobo, named Mirata, was created with the same characteristics. Mirata will stay on Earth as a backup crew member. The word "kirobo" itself is a portmanteau of "kibō", which means "hope" in Japanese, and the word "robo", used as a generic short word for any robot.
KIROBO is a small (approximately 34 centimetres / 13 inches tall) robot with human speech (voice and speech recognition, natural language processing, speech synthesis), telecommunications, face recognition and video recording capabilities. It is designed to navigate zero-gravity environments and assist Commander Wakata in various experiments.
Kirobo was put through a series of zero-gravity tests before it was deemed ready for flight. (Source: Kibo Robot Project)
- Suggested further reading: News article by Geekquinox Yahoo! news blog, from 9 Aug, 2013 on Talking humanoid robot makes contact with International Space Station
(includes two videos: Kirobo's arrival to the ISS, and a Japanese language Kirobo demonstration / interaction capabilities)