R2 is a humanoid robot capable of working alongside humans.
For GM, R2 would be used to test car safety and develop safer manufacturing plants. GM hopes to integrate robots with human workers. NASA would use R2 as a helper—or stand-in—for humans on space missions.
A video of what R2 can do shows the robot writing in cursive and lifting a 20lb weight. The robot uses bleeding edge control, sensor and vision technologies.
As for the background of R2, NASA has some experience with robot technology. The original Robonaut was developed in collaboration between the Johnson Space Center and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency 10 years ago.