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Sandeep Yayathi: Robotics Engineer

4 minutes

I'm Sandeep Yayathi, a robotics engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This is Robonaut 2. He's a friendly robot to work around. Robonaut 2 is a humanoid robot that we developed to assist astronauts in space on various types of tasks. Eventually we'd like to see this robot going EVA, which is outside in space. Perhaps if we're exploring the moon or Mars or an asteroid, you could send a robot out ahead of an astronaut to maybe assess the situation or go to areas that may be questionable and too dangerous for a crew member. He's able to have the dexterity of a human, but also has strength. Robonaut 2 has the arm span of Yao Ming and biceps of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. The difference is Schwarzenegger can't hold this weight out at full arm's length indefinitely. So we studied the human anatomy and the hands and used that to start designing this robotic system. That was one of the biggest challenges. So the robot likes to show off his guns from time to time. About the same as a human being. There's science-fiction movies that all of us grew up watching and kind of inspired us. The idea was to make this robot use the tools and interfaces that were designed already for the astronaut crew members to use aboard the Space Station and with the Space Shuttle program. It was natural to gravitate towards a human-type design. This is a Robonaut 2 forearm without all the shells and skins on it. You can see the actuators in the hands moving. We actually use tendons, similar to human tendons, in order to allow it to move like a human hand. And because it doesn't have skin and nerves like we do, we developed sensors so the robot can feel what it's grabbing onto. The robot's vision system is cameras in its head to replicate your eyes. We're trying to mimic human biology, but with electronics. His brain's actually in his chest. That's where the computer is that does the computation. Many tasks inside the Space Station seem simple and mundane, but the International Space Station is like a home. You have to do maintenance, clean filters. These are things the robot could do without the crew around, eventually, and allowing them to focus on complicated science experiments to benefit research on the ground. As a kid, you always think about NASA as exploring space, as being so up there, so far out that maybe it's not a reachable goal, like I could never be a movie star sort of thing. All of a sudden, a switch flipped that NASA's like any other company anywhere else, except that its got all these awesome goals. The best part is seeing the entire design process. I go from being at a desk doing design work to assembling things on a workbench behind me and making sure they work. Going from being a kid fooling around with stuff at home to now working here, this is my job, it's pretty incredible. I never thought I would end up here. Just learn the right skills and follow your dream. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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NASA robotics engineer Sandeep Yayathi explains how he designs and builds humanoid robots that can work alongside astronauts. Part of the "Design Squad Nation" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 4 minutes

Design Squad Nation
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Design Squad Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
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Design Squad Nation
Episode 3
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Episode 4
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Episode 5
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Episode 6
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Episode 7
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Episode 8
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Episode 9
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