NASA’s humanoid robot, Valkyrie, has embarked on its first real-world mission as an oil rig worker in Australia, marking a significant step towards turning science fiction into reality. This endeavor is part of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and Woodside Energy, an energy company based in Perth, Australia, and it’s aimed at testing the robot’s capabilities in handling hazardous conditions.
The collaboration between NASA and Woodside seeks to develop “remote mobile dexterous manipulation capabilities” that will enable the remote maintenance of crewless offshore energy facilities. By deploying Valkyrie in this real-world industrial setting, Woodside Energy will be able to evaluate the resulting software’s performance and provide essential data and feedback to NASA. This cooperative effort is expected to accelerate the advancement of robotic technology.
This project marks the second partnership between NASA and Woodside, highlighting the growing importance of robotic technology in enhancing the efficiency and safety of offshore and remote energy facilities. The insights gained from this collaboration could also have implications for NASA’s Artemis missions and other terrestrial robotic endeavors.
To carry out this project, NASA’s dexterous robotics team from the Johnson Space Center traveled to Woodside’s headquarters in Perth. There, they prepared Valkyrie for its mission and provided training to the Woodside team on its operation. The deployment received recognition from representatives of the Western Australian government and the United States Consul General in Perth.
NASA’s goal is to leverage the experience gained from Valkyrie’s operation in challenging conditions to refine the design of robots capable of working in harsh environments — Such robots could prove invaluable for future lunar and Martian missions as they enable remote operation and tasks like infrastructure inspection and maintenance, even in the absence of astronauts.
Shaun Azimi, who leads NASA’s dexterous robotics team at the Johnson Space Center, emphasized the potential impact of advanced robots on Earth, stating that they can enhance safety in hazardous environments and extend human reach. Both NASA and Woodside envision these robots as valuable assets for supervising dangerous work while allowing humans to focus on higher-level tasks.
This collaboration underscores the growing role of robotics in shaping the future of remote and hazardous work environments.