Space shuttle Discovery takes off for the International Space Station today. In its payload: Robonaut 2. A robotic astronaut. Has a head, arms. It's the first robot to go up there that looks like an average person (at least from the waist up, he looks more like a go-cart from the waist down).
NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean tells us the human-like design is practical. A head and neck system allows for good craning around to film things on the four built-in cameras. And it's convenient for a robot to be able to use the same tools a person does since getting new tools to use up there is a little more complicated than a trip to the hardware store.
We also talk with Marty Linn, a principal engineer for robotics at General Motors, who partnered with NASA to build R2 (NASA assures us that no Star Wars pun was intended). He says that the engineers involved really admired the way the human body is constructed. In fact Marty and his colleagues spent a fair amount of time just looking at their own hands for inspiration. Another big reason for the humanoid approach he says, is that it just looks cool.
While R2 is going to stay at the ISS, there's a movement within NASA to send a Robonaut to the moon. It could be there within a thousand days. Walking around, taking pictures, never coming back.
Also on this show, we talk to cartoonist David Malki !(he spells his last name with the extra space and exclamation point) who fills us in on his book, "Machine Of Death."
It's an anthology of stories from obscure writers found online. The book was rejected by major publishers so Malki ! and associates decided to self-publish and arranged for their online communities to buy it on the day it officially debuted. On that day, the book shot to number one overall on Amazon, unheard of for a self-published book, and soon all those big time publishers were scrambling to partner up. But Malki ! and friends said no and this week they're releasing free PDF and audiobook versions of their work. Malki ! tells us why.