Robot steps are what you take, walking on the moon.
A group of Japanese satellite makers called the Space Oriented Higashiosaka Leading Association (SOHLA) says that it will spend more than $10 million to put a humanoid, bipedal robot on the moon by 2015. Maido-kun would hitchhike on board a moon mission by the Japanese space agency JAXA that year and plant the country’s flag on our planet’s natural satellite. And maybe it will walk around—if it can keep from falling over:
Designing a robot that can balance and move on two legs will be a major challenge, says Roger La-Brooy of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. “Human beings are relatively unstable, and when designing robots for unpredictable terrain, three legs are better than two.” If the robot were to fall over, it could have trouble getting up again, says Rodney Brooks, a roboticist at MIT [New Scientist].
Because of those problems, JAXA actually gave up its own plans for a walking robot in favor of one that would roll on wheels. And the Maido-kun doesn’t appear to have much in the way of pure scientific value. But for the members of SOHLA, what matters is the imprint on the public imagination as Japan aims to put a human on the moon and build a base there by 2030:
“Humanoid robots are glamorous, and they tend to get people fired up,” SOHLA board member Noriyuki Yoshida was quoted as saying by Pink Tentacle. “We hope to develop a charming robot to fulfill the dream of going to space” [CNET].
If nothing else, the Maido-kun mission means another robot that looks disturbingly like us will be going to space. A few weeks ago we reported that NASA plans to send “Robonaut 2,” a robot with a humanoid upper body, to the International Space Station. NASA’s bot won’t walk on two legs, but, to be honest, I’d be more fired up if it did.
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