Rice students help NASA with human-robot interactions

Some Rice engineering students are helping design a robotic suit for NASA used to test human-robot interactions.

HOUSTON - A team of Rice University freshmen created a contraption they hope will suit NASA.

On Wednesday, KHOU 11 News met "Not Bot" at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen on campus.

The agency asked Rebecca Francis, Pedro Lozano, Pedro Regino, Christina Rincon and Grant Wilkinson for a convincing lookalike of its humanoid robots "Valkyrie and Robonaut." It's a robot NASA can use to easily access human-robot interactions and help future astronauts develop everyday protocols with their artificial helpers on missions to Mars and beyond.

"NASA gave the team a time frame: A person had to be able to put on this costume in no longer than a half hour," said Rice bioengineer Jane Grande-Allen, the team's faculty adviser. "This one doesn't take that long, but it took a lot of hard work to get all the pieces to attach firmly."

The students met in NG 200, a freshman engineering course at Rice. They tell us the course administrator brought in a set of clients and pitched ideas.

NASA came in, and all five listed the project "first" as the one they wanted to work on.

Lozano is the man behind the mask, or the motorcycle helmet in this case. Lozano and his team tried on the suit for our cameras Wednesday.

"I want to convey to a person that I'm not a robot," Lozano said.

Francis loved the idea.

"In 2030 or whenever it may be, when humans make it to Mars on these long expeditions, humans and robots will be together for long periods of time," she said. "So we have to understand what those interactions are and look like so we can know how humans react when robots malfunction."

They've researched costume design over the last nine months in addition to all the engineering aspects that go into the project.

"We've looked up how to build iron man costumes," Francis said.

They arrived at a robot called, "Not Bot."

"I'm a robot, but I'm not really. You're supposed to think I am one," Lozano said.

It's also National Robotics Week, and on Thursday, there's an engineering design showcase where more than 100 teams including "Not Bot" will be competing for money and other prizes.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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