The days of the traditional rover are numbered: the future is associated with a very different vision of a new generation of robots.
In space and astronomy, visuals are given less priority. Due to the inherent weight and space constraints of these branches, matter is systematically preferred over form. This is because lunar rovers, for example, are simply satisfied with the essentials, such as their scientific instruments; They are systematically deprived of cosmetic ingredients which represent a dead weight. But a Japanese company seems to want to move this paradigm with a machine of a very specific shape, characterized by interesting engineering.
GITAI, a Japanese startup that specializes in robotics, has partnered with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) to create a rover that perseveres and moves all the codes established by its prominent lineage. It has nothing to do with these devices, which are basically piles of scientific instruments carefully stacked on a motorized platform; This machine, called the R1, looks a lot like a robotic centaur on wheels.
Rolling head, arms and legs
At least we can say that he is visually very impressive with his semi-ethnographic silhouette. Most sensors are mounted on top of a mast, shaped like a human torso mounted by a helmet. It has a pair of robotic weapons at the “shoulder” level.
This machine is so different from the conventional rover that anyone can believe in a common idea. But the program is actually relatively advanced. During initial tests last February, the robot was able to land on an artificial terrain that could reproduce the rough and dusty reliefs of our satellites. He was also able to collect a sample (awkwardly) of this artificial moon dust.
Recently, he has even been able to unpack the base of a solar panel structure and then assemble it thanks to his clear arms. This is usually the kind of work that will start to become more important in today’s environment. This R1 is therefore a taste of the direction that space robotics may take in the fairly near future.
A new look for a new life
Until now, there has been little reason for engineers to deviate from the standards set by Curiosity et al. Because even though each machine had its own characteristics, overall, the purpose was always the same: to collect samples and scientific information that could improve our knowledge of the planet in question.
But since Lunokhod 1, the first rover landed on the moon by the Soviet Union in 1970, paved the way, breaking many technical barriers. Today, it is no longer just a question of studying these planets; These changes in form are motivated by the desire of many players who now plan to establish a proper infrastructure or even a real colony there.
And it’s no longer just a prestigious technology competition. This is now a major strategic issue, especially in the areas of resources and geopolitics. It is forcing very large powers, starting from China and the United States, to occupy the land very aggressively.
An instance change that promises to be interesting
But these big projects bring a whole host of new logistical hurdles. And to overcome them, humanity will be able to rely on a new generation of highly sophisticated robots. Their mission will have nothing to do with their predecessors. Because in one sense, perseverance and others are just tourists; They simply survey the planet, take pictures and measure and, at best, collect some memories.
These elements are obviously extremely important and undoubtedly have advanced science. But this new robot will directly or indirectly help people on the site. In particular, they can assist us in installing the necessary equipment for power, communication and survival before the arrival of settlers. Then, they will facilitate difficult tasks like digging, handling or even repairing certain components.
GITAI expects its R1 to be able to set foot on lunar soil by 2025. It is on the scale of space conquest in the very near future. It remains to be seen whether this will be a test or whether it will already be effective. Until then, it will most likely be the emergence of many more innovative robot concepts with different and varied innovative capabilities. So it would be very interesting to witness this transformation, which is quite prudent for the moment, but fundamental in space robotics.