A giant robot is attracting a lot of attention in Hampton Roads

Posted at 8:09 PM, Jan 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-28 20:09:41-05

Hampton, Va. - A giant robot is attracting a lot of attention in Hampton Roads these days.

"We've run this thing dozens and dozens of times," said Brian Stewart, Integration Manager for ISAAC at NASA's Langley Research Center.

In fact, it looks like something out of a Transformers movie.  But you won't find Optimus Prime and or any Autobots around.

"We watch it over and over again, and it never gets old.  And I don't foresee it getting old anytime in the future,"  said Stewart.

ISAAC is an acronym for Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites.  It's a huge arm that spins and moves on a track that can transform 3-D computer drawings and fibers into pieces that can fly in the air or be launched into space.

"In recent years, robotic technology has gotten us to the point where we can do this in a much more accurate, much more automated fashion," said Stewart.

Before this seven-ton, two-story tall robot was around, a lot of materials had to be made by hand.  Stewart demonstrated one of those materials to NewsChannel 3.

"The parts you see here, like this one, if we had contracted this out, it would've taken anywhere from six months to a year to go through all of the contract processes, to get this on a commercial machine [and] to get it back.  This part was made in three days," said Stewart.

The materials that ISAAC has made would replace most metals.  In fact, they're lighter, stronger, and stiffer, weighing about 20 to 30 percent less than most metal pieces.

ISAAC is one of only three robots like it in the world.  However, the other two systems, located in Utah and Seattle, Washington, are used for bulk manufacturing of lightweight composite materials for industry, not for research.

So while ISAAC might look like an Autobot ready to fight off Decepticons in the next Transformers film, the robot is actually here to do work never done at NASA Langley before.

"It's real funny because people identify ISAAC with the robot, and we've had people ask, 'Is ISAAC a thing, a person or what is it?' And really, it's a capability," said Stewart.