Robonaut 2 had some nice glowing reports of earning its keep in orbit on the ISS back in March… This project was an unusual collaboration, 15 years in the making, between NASA and General Motors, each of whom had their own reasons for wanting to develop a much more advanced robot than anything then available. There was another requirement in the development criteria; it had to be a robot that could do things like a human would do them, using a similar visual feedback and manipulatory structure. In plain English, two eyes looking forward from its head, and hands with opposable thumbs on person length arms, so it could use the same tools, vehicles, and other components of a human environment to do jobs that assisted people or freed them up for other tasks.
They did such a good job on it that the team and project are now up for the Sammies Award this year, and you can read a great interview here with one of the original developers about their approach to the entire endeavor.
What has happened since? Well, not as many news stories it seems, but some very exciting stuff if you were thinking about cobbling together your own variant. They have now released the Robonaut 2 Simulator as a free download over at ROS.org (Robot Operating System). The tested versions are only certified to run on Ubuntu 12.04 since that was the box they tested them on (what a surprise, the very version I upgraded my own Ubuntu box to just a few days ago), but the dependencies are pretty generic, so it should run on most scientifically oriented recent Linux builds. If you need to compile something for a more specific system, you can grab the source code here, tweak it for your own hardware, and make any other changes your system might require.
All of which means you can write your own instruction sets for the robot and see exactly what happens when it carries them out! There is a very good chance this is going to become one of the core R.O.S.’s going forward, not least because it is open source, so if you are considering a future in robotics I strongly recommend downloading this as a way to explore and learn the possibilities.