The transformer robot is expected to collect data on the lunar surface to determine how the regolith affects the crewed pressurized rover’s driving performance. (Image Credit: JAXA/TOMY Company/Sony/Doshisha University)
Transformers on the Moon? Wasn’t that a movie plot?
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it formed a partnership with Sony, Doshisha, University, and TOMY to develop and launch a transformable rover to the Moon. The robot’s main job involves collecting lunar surface data, allowing JAXA’s crewed pressurized rover, launching in 2029, to travel on the surface. JAXA also needs to study the layer of regolith and the effects of the Moon’s gravity to improve the rover’s driving and cruising technology. The small robot is set to launch in 2022. Thanks to its compact design and versatility, the robot could play active roles in future lunar exploration missions.
This extremely compact and lightweight robot is expected to measure 3.1” in diameter, weighing just half a pound. Japanese company ispace, which signed a contract in April 2021, is launching the robot aboard a lunar lander. Ultimately, the robot’s journey starts as a compact ball, transforming into its running form once it lands on the lunar surface.
JAXA says that while traveling on the Moon, the robot and lunar lander’s camera captures images of the regolith’s behavior and the lunar surface. Those images are transmitted to the mission control center via the lunar lander. JAXA plans on using this data to evaluate the localization algorithm and how the regolith potentially affects the crewed pressurized rover’s driving performance.
Developing this robot first started in 2016 by JAXA and TOMY, the Japanese toymaker that manufactures Transformers and Beyblades products. In 2019, Sony joined the effort, providing the robot’s control system. Lastly, Doshisha University joined in 2021, helping TOMY to miniaturize its design.
“Since the [company’s] foundation, we have been making toys with safe and reliable quality, a spirit of craftsmanship to pay attention to details, flexible imagination, and above all, a strong will to make children smile,” said Tomy CEO and chairman Kantaro Tomiyama in JAXA’s press release. “I sincerely hope that we will make use of them in this space exploration opportunity and make children to be more interested in natural science including space.”
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