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NASA Robotics Engineer Kris Verdeyen to be Master of Ceremonies for FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional

February 17, 2014

Verdeyen NASA

NASA Robotics Engineer: Kris Verdeyen, a 2000 Rose-Hulman electrical engineering graduate, has spent his entire professional career as a robotics engineer with NASA. (Photo by Chris Zamora/NASA)

     A unique, hands-on educational ride as a Rose-Hulman student on NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft launched Kris Verdeyen’s ambitions to develop robotic projects bringing new technology to America’s space program.

     “It was a right-place, right-time moment. You do the best you can and then you get lucky,” says the 2000 electrical engineering alumnus about his opportunity to meet NASA officials after riding on the famed “vomit comet.” The reduced-gravity aircraft gives brief near-weightless environments for training astronauts, conducting research, and making gravity-free movie shots.

     Verdeyen is a robotics engineer specializing in electronics, batteries, and power systems for NASA’s robotics development team. The Terre Haute, Indiana native joins NASA in encouraging future engineers as a volunteer for the FIRST Robotics program. He will return to Rose-Hulman as the Master of Ceremonies for this year’s Crossroads Regional [www.rose-hulman.edu/crossroads] on March 6-8 after assisting at FIRST Robotics events in Texas for several years.

     Verdeyen’s NASA projects have included the first human-like robot, Robonaut 2 (R2), which has become a permanent resident of the International Space Station. Having a head and a torso with two arms and two hands, R2 is a dexterous robot that not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one. It is able to use the same tools station crew members use.

Robonautdesert

Robotics At Work: NASA’s first human-like robot, Robonaut, is a dexterous robot that not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one. This was a joint project with General Motors. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

     In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans.

      “If you're talking about the evolution of humans and robots working together, these kinds of things now seem possible. It's a big step in the evolution of human/robotic work,” says Verdeyen, a NASA employee since 2000.

     The project was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors under a cooperative agreement. The automaker plans to use technologies from R2 in future advanced vehicle safety systems and manufacturing plant applications.

     Since R2 has been aboard the station, Verdeyen and other engineers have learned how dexterous robots behave in space. The hope is that through upgrades and advancements the robot could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.

     “R2 is faster, safer, reaches farther and is smaller than the original R1B was, by a long shot. R2 can do more real work than any other humanoid in the world,” states Verdeyen. “While we did build R2 to be a very advanced robot, it isn't meant to showcase anything. The robot is built to do work.”

     Verdeyen has also assisted on NASA’s development of Valkyrie, a humanoid robot which may go to Mars to prepare for and work beside the first human explorers. Earlier assignments included the Centaur and Chariot mobile base units, which will help with the future exploration of distant planetary surfaces.

     “The enabling technology is becoming cheap enough that anything is possible,” he says. “Working with NASA has given me the opportunity to put hardware in space. What can be better than that?”