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Moon Businesses Robotics Space Hardware

Japanese Consortium Projects a Humanoid Robot On the Moon By 2015 151

Posted by timothy
from the why-can't-they-send-them-all? dept.
JoshuaInNippon writes "A Japanese manufacturing cooperative named Astro-Technology SOHLA announced on April 27th that they are planning to create and send a two-legged humanoid robot to the moon, have it draw the Japanese flag on the surface, and hopefully then get it to return to the Earth, all by the year 2015. The group wants to inspire people, particularly in Japan, about space and generate confidence among SMEs to create low-cost space technology. While the idea may seem far-fetched to some, SOHLA had success in building a small low-cost satellite named Maido-1, which was launched into space aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket in early 2009. The group also commented that they want to have their future humanoid robot hitch a ride to the moon with a surveying rover that JAXA is building."
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Japanese Consortium Projects a Humanoid Robot On the Moon By 2015

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  • maybe they use superbright LEDs?

  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:07PM (#32036026)
    Will it be able to hit golfballs like the earlier astronauts? Will it plant a flag? Hell, will it even be able to right itself or free itself from its restraints once it 'lands'?

    If they just want to lose a robot, they should send it down the Jersey Turnpike and see how it does in the truck lanes.
    • No, it will pretty much just draw a flag, it seems. Surely there are less expensive ways to get the kids interested in space?
      • Sending an android to the moon is definitely cool. The Japanese definitely understand the rule of cool [tvtropes.org].
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sabt-pestnu (967671)

        Perhaps there are. However, perhaps you missed the implications of this plan.

        Humanoid robot. Complex action. Manipulation.

        To achieve the goal of "drawing a flag" it seems reasonable that the robot would a) have both sensors and manipulators, and probably b) be updateable, or even teleoperation/telefactor.

        At that point, what it can do once it gets there is only really limited by what you send with it, or what you can assemble once you get there.


    • Duh, it's Japanese. Sexbot.
  • Why 2-legged? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:08PM (#32036052)

    Honestly, this push for 2-legged robots seems pretty silly, and the only reason it's done is because they look more like us. A 4-legged or even 6-legged robot would make far more sense. 4 legs are much more stable than 2, and easier to walk on. If pickup up and handling objects is a concern, then 6 legs is a good alternative. Many insects work this way, after all. Praying mantises are a good example: they have six legs, and use the front two for grasping. For extra stability on rough terrain (which certainly describes the moon), the front legs can be dual-purpose, used for both walking about grasping.

    • Re:Why 2-legged? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:15PM (#32036132) Homepage Journal
      Or, you know, they could just use wheels like other, very successful robotic explorers....Legs are complicated.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        That's true, legs are complicated. However, they have distinct advantages over wheels on extremely rough terrain. Wheels easily get stuck and lose traction. Legs can easily cope with holes, small and large obstacles, etc. A rock in the way can cause a wheeled vehicle to get stuck, but a legged vehicle can step right over it.

        Have you ever seen someone try to take a wheeled vehicle on one of the hiking trails in the Grand Canyon? Even if it weren't against the rules, not many people would be that stupid,

        • Re:Why 2-legged? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:44PM (#32036614) Homepage

          > Have you ever seen someone try to take a wheeled vehicle on one of the
          > hiking trails in the Grand Canyon?

          Have you ever seen someone try to take a humanoid robot on one of the
          hiking trails in the Grand Canyon?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Well yeah, it's a trade off like everything else in space-vehicle design. If you are definitely sending your robot to rocky parts of the moon, then you should probably use legs. However, if you are going to be wandering around in a fairly small area where rocks can be avoided, wheels make much more sense. Also, wheeled configurations can do much better on rough terrain than those found on Spirit and Opportunity. Just look at the capabilities of a quad or a hummer to see just how rough terrain can get and st
          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Just look at the capabilities of a quad or a hummer to see just how rough terrain can get and still allow for wheeled designs.

            These vehicles can't handle rough terrain at all. I can (and do) easily hike in places where these vehicles can't pass. The main advantages to wheeled vehicles are simplicity and speed (provided the terrain is smooth enough).

            Besides, Hummers are a terrible example of an all-terrain vehicle, and are really quite pathetic. If you want to see a really good all-terrain vehicle that ca

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              You must spend your time observing different quads and hummers than I do. I grew up in the country where four-wheeling and quading were one of very few past times. I have seen hummers and jeeps alike scramble, literally, over boulder ridden inclines. I have watched quads with paddle tires tear through deep sand efficiently. In that same sand, I have watched bipedal humans get off their broken down quads and expend a ridiculous amount of energy having to practically swim their way out of sand that they sink
              • I'm guessing what happens in cases like this is they throw the original design analysis in the trash after realizing that 2-legs will generate a lot more seed money from commercial investors.
                • I suppose that makes sense if they can actually convince a commercial investor to seed them money for the 2 legged design. I know when I did a design presentation on a small satellite orbital telescope project I worked on in college, the industry board that was supposed to be funding the project ripped my design due to the use of a single, deployable hinge for my solar panel because that one hinge added far too much complexity (according to them) in the control systems architecture. Thus, it was more likely
        • by tehcyder (746570)
          Maybe you could have both wheels and legs.
          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Hey, that's a good idea. Other than weight, there's no reason you couldn't, and it would give you the best of both worlds. Wheels for better speed on smoother terrain, and legs for really bad terrain or obstacles, or when your wheels get stuck (like they have with the Mars Rovers).

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:17PM (#32036152) Journal

      So, waa-a-a-ait, you're saying four legs good, two legs baa-aa-aad?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Right, but preferably we want our "Greeting Robot" on the moon to look like us. Any approaching aliens will train their weapons on it, check it out. If they shoot it, we know they are hostile. If they leave it alone, and come for a visit to Earth, then they will know what to expect.

      I would hate the first interstellar war to be caused by the aliens expecting a 6 legged species and getting a 2 legged one.

      • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:32PM (#32036382)

        If that's a concern, then 6-legged is a better way to go. That way, when the hostile aliens come to earth looking for whoever sent the 6-legged robots, they'll attack the insects first, thinking they're the more intelligent species that built everything, and that the humans are just some dumb animals they use as beasts of burden. I don't think there's any insects that are endangered, so we can stand to lose some of them.

    • by izomiac (815208)
      There are advantages to being bipedal, hence why humans and birds are. OTOH, we're a very long way from robots being comparable to animals in terms of freedom of movement, so a lot of those advantages are lost. But, if we solve a few problems the relevant advantages would be weight (2 vs 4 legs), efficiency (wheels are best, but humans are the most efficient long distance runners), and the ability to step out of a hole.
      • by blair1q (305137)

        There are advantages to being bipedal, hence why humans and birds are.

        You get an 'F' in Evolution.

        The correct answer is:

        There are no disadvantages to being bipedal that were fatal to the first generation exhibiting the mutuation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        There are advantages to being bipedal, hence why humans and birds are.

        Like what?

        The only "advantages" to being bipedal is that it frees up two limbs to do things other than walking. With humans, we use our front legs for grasping and carrying and manipulating things. With birds, they use their front legs to fly, which has distinct advantages over walking. Most birds only walk when they're resting, eating, or doing something else where they don't need to travel any significant distance. For primary locom

        • Re:Why 2-legged? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Nadaka (224565) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @05:26PM (#32037204)

          Not to discredit any of the very good points that you bring up...

          But there are some of the advantages of being bipedal:

          1: It weighs a lot less.

          2: there is a lot less drag.

          3: dynamic equalibrium allows faster turns.

          4: If you need a set of limbs for some new function (flight, carrying stuff), evolution is a lot more likely to work if you convert existing limbs instead of growing a whole new pair.

        • If you don't have 4 legs, then you won't be able to do anything on the moon. Humans have 4 legs. We only walk on two of them, and call the other two "arms". They are smaller and lighter, but not that much lighter. Most quadrupedal mammals also have smaller, lighter front legs, which they happen to walk on. With them, just like with us, the rear legs are larger and heavier and provide most of the locomotive power.

          Yes exactly. A two legged robots are useless if they don't have the extra appendages to help them maintain balance or regain their bipedalness after losing their balance.

    • Re:Why 2-legged? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:37PM (#32036482) Journal

      Honestly, this push for 2-legged robots seems pretty silly, and the only reason it's done is because they look more like us.

      Its not just because they LOOK more like us - you basically demonstrated half the reasons in your post. They move like us, they have to handle the same stresses as us. Agreed - the human form is not the most efficient for gathering materials or effective travelling on harsh ground. However, we can learn what traveling on the ground would be like for a human WITHOUT sending a human, and thats why you would send a humanoid robot.

      It's job is to be drawing the Japanese Flag on the moon. Which, in case you haven't noticed, looks a lot like a crater, so its not like the moon isn't already covered in Japanese flags. This mission is not going to be so much about efficient robotics as it is about getting people into the idea of space travel.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Humanoid robots work better in enviroments meant for humans though. For example when...tending for those enviroments while humans do more worthwhile stuff. Perhaps Japanese aren't telling us the whole story yet ;)

      PS. Roughly humanoid upper torso (yes, 6 legs -> 4 legs + 2 arms transformation done in a specific way will do of course) is good for teleoperating such robot; gives "immersion". And the Moon is close enough for it to be almost realtime...

    • by TomRC (231027)

      Actually, I think there are some good reasons to go for 2 legs.

      It's the minimum you can walk with - so if you can make it work well (and the Japanese have gotten pretty good at it), it makes your robot smaller and less massive, better able to get into tight spaces, etc. It's not statically stable - but again, if you've spent millions already to perfect a 2 legged walking robot, you might as well use it and save some mass.

      Why not wheels? Well, in theory a walking robot can go where wheels can't, and speci

    • by hardburn (141468)

      They do it because they're Japanese. They want an actual Gundam in space.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        They do it because they're Japanese. They want an actual Gundam in space.

        But will it be under the control of the Agriculture Ministry?

        • by hardburn (141468)

          If the Agriculture Ministry isn't in charge of Gundam, then I'd like to know who in the government is.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Dawgmatix (1800864)
      Because defence agencies are willing to fund two legged. This can potentially act as legs for double amputees
    • The only purpose for a humanoid robot is a sex bot.

      Well, unless you go to Furry conventions.

      then 6 legs is a good alternative.

      I'd go for eight legs because:

      [1] You have two spares. One leg gets damaged you can jettison it and activate a spare. then it becomes the software engineer's problem. :-P
      [2] It's creepier. :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by justin12345 (846440)
      I think the point is that it's a challenge.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      The challenge is a good reason, and an eventual form-and-fit robot replacement for humans could facilitate development of human-compatible systems.

      Humans are currently a burden to launch, support, and return. As a result, the manned space program interferes with actual exploration (as opposed to tourism) of space.

      We want humans in space so they can enjoy themselves, but the utterly hostile environment dictates that they will do most of their interaction with it remotely. Perfect robots (which we need on and

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Yea if they're doing important science like drawing their flag on the moon then they shouldn't waste things on flashy two legged robot designs.

    • If a two legged robot can traverse the terrain while it builds an outpost then it would be safe to assume that a human could traverse it as well.

  • by networkzombie (921324) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:14PM (#32036120)
    Flag planting by proxy? Will the robot then walk over to the U.S. flag and tear it down?
    • by zero_out (1705074)
      The Moon is considered to be like Antarctica. It is a shared resource, not owned by any one nation. This is mostly because those environments are too harsh and remote to establish any economically viable enterprise. When (if) we eventually find a way to make them economically viable, such as climate change melting the Antarctic or cheap launch / recovery vehicles, then we'll begin fighting over who owns them. Until then, we just look at our neighbors suspiciously, and keep the guns stowed away.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by boneclinkz (1284458)
        That would be the most hysterical prank ever, if the Japanese robot went and uprooted our flag. Seriously, Americans would be calling for another war with Japan. I can see Glenn Beck now.
    • by bugnuts (94678) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:40PM (#32036550) Journal

      The whole "draw a flag" thing I consider to be the same as vandals tagging walls.

      As long as it can only be seen with a really high-power telescope, I guess I don't care a lot. But it's still vandalism, and very distasteful.

      Imagine if corporations could simply buy moon advertisements.... We'd be seeing crap like [KRAFT CHEESE] and other crap. The original footprints from the astronauts are still there 50 years later.

      • by zero_out (1705074)

        Imagine if corporations could simply buy moon advertisements.... We'd be seeing crap like [KRAFT CHEESE] and other crap.

        Like the ending to Hancock?

        i didnt see that movie yet you insensitive clod!

        Oops, my bad.

      • The original footprints from the astronauts are still there 50 years later.

        Apollo 11 - July 1969

        Apollo 17 - December 1972

      • Imagine if corporations could simply buy moon advertisements.... We'd be seeing crap like [KRAFT CHEESE] and other crap.

        That'd be fucking awesome!!!

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        I'm reminded of an old Cold War joke.

        "Mister President, the Soviets have just landed on the moon and are painting it red!"
        "Good. We'll just wait until they finish, then send up our own boys to paint Coca-Cola on it."
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        The original footprints from the astronauts are still there 50 years later.

        So the Russians *did* land on the moon in 1960, just like I always said.

      • That sounds like an awesome idea! Get a bank of really powerful lasers in different colors and project advertisements on the moon! I bet you could sell those ads for a fortune! Just don't let Google know.
  • Wouldn't the cost of returning the robot to earth far exceed the cost of simply building a new one? I thought the whole point of using automatons for exploration was that you could leave them there!
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      No, that would give the robots first claim at having settled all the good parts when they reach sentience.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zero_out (1705074)
      Japan has an interesting facination with humanoid robots. Their ideal robot is essentially human, and treated as a human in all respects. This includes cost-inefficient recovery of the robot. The whole purpose of this proposed mission is to generate interest in humanoid robotics, so they want to show that a robot can do everything that a person can do. Sending it to the moon and back is just a glamorous way of doing this.
      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        Once again, they are failing to meet the real needs of the people. The economic demand is for sexbots, not astrobots. People don't want a robot that "can do everything that a person can do". They want a robot that can do everything that a hooker can do.
        • by hldn (1085833)

          They want a robot that can do everything that a hooker can do.

          and everything that even a hooker won't do.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Wouldn't the cost of returning the robot to earth far exceed the cost of simply building a new one? I thought the whole point of using automatons for exploration was that you could leave them there!

      SSSHHHHH! Ixnay on the eavinglay!

      We're just telling the robot that it will be coming back so it'll get on the rocket. After all it saw what we did with the last ones [xkcd.com].

    • Wouldn't the cost of returning the robot to earth far exceed the cost of simply building a new one? I thought the whole point of using automatons for exploration was that you could leave them there!

      Do you have any idea the kind of poon you can score when you show up at a club with a space robot that went to the moon?

    • by Imrik (148191)

      They want to duplicate the Apollo mission without the risk to human life.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      You cruel bastard!
  • I'd guess that a two-legged Japanese person would be easier to develop.

  • by pizzach (1011925)
    I know that the Japanese like their linear algebra and all, but they need to get back to what they are good at: making Marios.
  • Robots mean eventual construction, which means eventual colonization, which means eventual international conflict.

    Hope the conflict part waits until I'm dead!

  • Why don't they try doing something that'd be more useful like sending a robot capable of mining regolith, scrapping ice off of rocks and collecting it(if they find it), or at the very least capable of moving dirt around? IE do stuff that needs to be done if we want to live there.
    • by zero_out (1705074)
      Probably for the same reason so many Americans want to send another astronaut to the moon, rather than send rovers and probes.
  • Asimo? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jameskojiro (705701) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:23PM (#32036256) Journal

    Couldn't they just Send an Asimo and a Solar array to charge it's batteries, maybe a "suit" to keep the dust off it's joints?

  • What a Waste! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TomRC (231027) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:29PM (#32036340)

    ... put a robot on the moon, then bring it home after drawing a flag.

    Why not have the robot do something semi-constructive? Maybe set up a solar mirror capable of melting lunar rocks. Or set up a drill to see if there are more volatile elements deeper beneath the surface? Or at LEAST give it lots of equipment to play with, and turn it over to their brainiest kids to "experiment with", inspiring their next generation.

    If they just want to demonstrate the capability to put a human on the moon and bring them home, have the robot load their return lander with moon rocks - at least that payload would have some value other than publicity, and the robot will have served a purpose.

  • I mean, first that mini-star generated by a giant laser and now this...
  • "This is a small step for an android, one giant leap for the robotkind"

  • Baby Steps (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LordBmore (1794002)
    How about we get a humanoid robot that can successfully walk up and down stairs on earth before we send that bad boy to the moon?
  • ...welcome our new asian-bred moon-based overlords.

  • I've seen Baseball games where they put up the Japanese sun(alternating lines emanating from center). Could Japan be planning on making the entire moon look like that eventually? Heh.
  • by mark-t (151149)
    Putting a humanoid robot on the moon is pretty cool... one could explore the lunar surface through a VR interface that could control the robot and we could learn a lot of things about the moon over a long period that we wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to learn, without having to leave the comfort of a planet that has a perfectly livable atmosphere.

    However, going to the effort of bringing the robot back seems to me to be just a collossal waste of time and money. They could bring back stuff from th

    • Makes sense because they can then examine it closely for issues/improvement for v1.1

      Not to mention the funding they could raise by sending that thing on a tour!

      Maybe the 4th or 5th one, they will leave up there.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        Again... a close-up inspection isn't that practical, or for that matter, particularly necessary. This isn't a human being we're talking about, it's a machine. It would be far more economical to leave it up there, and do diagnostics remotely. Meanwhile, again... the unit could do a lot of stuff on the surface -- we could do some very long term exploration that wouldn't be possible otherwise.
  • Why not get Sanrio Corp to fund the mission and have it draw a Hello Kitty? Why not have the android look like Hello Kitty? If you've ever been to Japan and seen the Hello Kitty dildos, toilet seat covers, etc., you'll understand why this isn't entirely unlikely.
  • (1) Robot
    (2) Moonwalk
  • My first reaction to the headline is that's going to be one hell of a projector.

  • This is the sort of thing that will cause the US to start taking space seriously again.

    I predict the space race will heat up real nice again real soon, but with multiple participants, this time.

    It should be very exciting.  Just because we're sitting on our laurels, doesn't mean the other guys are.

    (But we do have a very nice private industry starting).
  • The fundamental things apply as time goes by: man must have his mate, and man must mark his territory.

    But I think they're missing an opportunity. The robot ought to be anatomically correct, and contain a little reservoir of Japanese urine it could spray onto the surface of the moon. There, let's see any human astronauts match that!

    Morris Bishop said it well:

    OZYMANDIAS REVISITED

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half

  • But, I hope they've worked out the icing problem.

    Sorry - Last night I watched Ironman for the first time.

"Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished." -- Goethe

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