Meet Valkyrie, the Robot Being Developed for NASA's Future Mars Mission

May 5, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Valkyrie the NASA robot surrounded by researchers at MIT CSAIL
Photo credit: MIT CSAIL

It looks like it walked straight out of a Star Wars movie!

At the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, work has begun on developing one of the most advanced humanoids on the planet, Valkyrie, a robot which will be used in a future NASA mission to explore the surface of the red planet, Mars.

Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said in a statement to the Herald of Scotland,"Valkyrie is a huge scientific undertaking. We are looking forward to tackling the many technical challenges involved in developing a large-scale humanoid robot, and pushing the state of the art in humanoid robotics.”

"At the moment the robot is a pretty basic shell which can walk up a set of three small steps and can reach out and grip something and pass it on to someone. It reacts if you push against it, either swaying or taking a step back,” Vijayakumar continued.

"The big challenge will be getting Valkyrie to interact with people; you have to have some pretty adaptable algorithms. The dream is to have something that can be a co-worker for astronauts on space missions, for example."

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Scientists at the University of Edinburgh working on the 6-foot (1.8-meter) tall robot that weighs just under 280 pounds (125 kilograms), hope Valkyrie will be ready for a mission to Mars in as little as five years.

Valkyrie is designed to work more readily alongside people that could accompany the robot in future missions. For example, there would be no need for specialized ramps onboard spacecrafts to accommodate robot wheels. Valkyrie can walk just like us.

"We want systems that work in environments built for humans," said Prof Vijayakumar. "Also, small wheels sometimes get stuck and big wheels are not very manoeuvrable. It's not by accident that humans were designed to be bipedal."

Valkyrie is currently equipped with a pair of stereoscopic cameras, which the robot will use as “eyes” to explore the surroundings. It contains cameras on its belly, adding additional visual input, as well as a set of sensors that will be sensitive to pressure and touch, allowing Valkyrie to respond to changes if needed.

Valkyrie doesn’t have any ears and cannot speak, but is equipped with a special sensory laser radar that’s housed in its face. The laser radar can be used to measure the distances of objects by firing pulses of light towards surfaces and then calculating the time it takes for the light to reflect back, like an echo.

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Although Valkyrie is being specially developed for a potential NASA space mission, the scientists believe the technology could have far further potential here on Earth.

"We have a much bigger remit and can see the technology in a lot of other domains, for example health care and disaster scenarios," said Prof Vijayakumar.

Initial progress with Valkyrie:


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