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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Humobots in Space

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During a simulated lunar operation, NASA's Robonaut prototype welds a seam at a construction site while two moonwalking astronauts inspect completed work.


Despite the cancellation of NASA's back-to-the-moon program, the next steps on the moon will likely be taken sometime in the next decade under human control. It's just that the humans will be using a robot to take them. The space agency's paradigm shift just might bring a shift to robotic telepresence as the next-best thing to walking on the moon.

Yes, they'll be robots - but if current trends in robotics hold true, the robots could work like humans with superpowers, responding to the movements of a virtual-reality operator and sending back streams of video and data in near real time. Such "humobots" would represent one giant leap beyond the current generation of interplanetary rovers.

The small steps can already be seen in this month's budget proposal for NASA: Among the robotic initiatives suggested to replace the canceled Constellation program is a mission to send out a lunar robot that "can be tele-operated from Earth and can transmit near-live video."

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