It's more than 40 years since the first human set foot on the moon, so where are all the robot space explorers? While rovers like those that have been trawling the Martian surface in recent times could properly be called robots, and machines like the legless R2 are heading to space, these don't match the classic science fiction image of a bi-pedal humanoid bot that we've all become accustomed to. Now a Japanese space-business group is promising to set things in order by sending a humanoid robot to the moon by 2015.
Japan's Space Oriented Higashiosaka Leading Association (SOHLA) expects to spend an estimated 1 billion yen (US$10.5 million) in getting the robot onto the lunar surface. Named Maido-kun after the satellite launched a aboard a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HII-A rocket in 2009, there appears to be no clearly defined mission for the robot (apart from getting there).
It's hoped that Maido-kun will travel to the moon on a JAXA mission planned for around 2015.
Why not stick to wheels? “Humanoid robots are glamorous, and they tend to get people fired up,” said SOHLA board member Noriyuki Yoshida. “We hope to develop a charming robot to fulfill the dream of going to space.”
Achieving the feat would certainly be another feather in the cap of Japan's world-leading robotics industry.