Robonaut 2.0 – Developing the Humanoid Robot of the Future

Vid Fikfak, MD1, Albert Huang, MD1, Myron Diftler, PhD, MS, BSE2, David A Kerr, MS3, Marc Dean, MD4, Brian J Dunkin, MD, FACS1. 1Houston Methodist Hospital, 2NASA, 3Jacobs, 4Baylor All Saints Medical Center


Over the last several years there has been a renewed interest in developing an advanced surgical robotic system. Currently available versions are limited to using console specific robotic instruments, so we explored the use of a humanoid robot, as it offers the advantage of using existing surgical instruments.

Technology and Methods

Robonaut 2.0 is a humanoid robotic platform originally developed by NASA to assist astronauts working on a space station with complex and high risks tasks. The last version of the Robonaut system 2.0 was transferred to our facility where it was set up. Two surgeons – a specialist in minimally invasive surgery and an ENT specialist were involved in platform testing. The ability of the robot to perform peg transfer, ultrasound of the neck for central line placement and laryngoscopy for oral intubation, were tested. Robonaut was placed in front of task-specific models. The surgeon was able to control the robot using a set of virtual reality goggles and two gloves containing sensors. The goggles allowed the surgeon to visualize the image received by Robonaut and the movement of the surgeon’s hands was translated into Robonaut’s movement.


The Robonaut 2.0 platform was found to have several general and task specific limitations. Firstly, the current platform is equipped with very large hands (8 ½ glove size) that do not allow the use of pistol grip instruments. Secondly, the lack of thenar eminences limits the ability to effectively manipulate the instruments. Finally, the operator system interface offers limited control of wrist, elbow and shoulder. Although Robonaut was able to complete all tasks including intubation, ultrasound of the internal jugular vein as well as peg transfer, these all took a significant amount of time due to difficulty in performing highly accurate and task-specific movements.


The advantage of developing a humanoid robotic platform is in that it can use existing surgical instruments and allows the surgeon a wider field of view and therefore improves spatial awareness. As we have identified Robonaut’s limitations, we are starting to rebuild the existing platform to overcome these so it can serve as the surgical humanoid robot of the future.

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