Today, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced they have plans to land a "transformable lunar robot" on the Moon to gather data on the lunar surface. This IS more than meets the eye in so many ways considering the company behind the original vision for transforming toys and how the Moon has played a role in the Transformers stories is no coincidence. TOMY, Sony and Doshisha University are directly involved in the JAXA project. Tomiyama Kantaro, Representative Director, Chairman & CEO, TOMY Company, Ltd. had to say this about the project:
This is truly amazing news when a science fiction concept of transforming robots comes to life and enables mankind to explore other worlds. Read the full press release below for the official details on the JAXA announcement.
National Research and Development Agency
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to obtain data on the lunar surface by utilizing a transformable lunar robot. The data collected will aid the design for the studied crewed pressurized rover. The transformable lunar robot is being jointly developed by JAXA, TOMY Company, Ltd. (Tomy Company), Sony Group Corporation (Sony), and Doshisha University. Transportation of the robot to the Moon will be conducted by Japan’s ispace, inc. (ispace).
The lunar surface, where the crewed pressurized rover will travel, is a unique environment; the gravity is one-sixth of that on Earth and the surface is covered by regolith, sand on the Moon. As a result of the system conceptual study for the crewed pressurized rover that began in 2019, it was found that data acquisition on the lunar surface is needed for the detailed study of autonomous driving technology and cruising technology to be utilized by the crewed pressurized rover.
In order to acquire this data, a transformable lunar robot (Fig. 1) will be transported to the lunar surface by ispace’s lunar lander (Fig. 2) (to be launched in 2022). While the robot travels on the lunar surface, images on behavior of the regolith, and images of lunar surface taken by the robot and the camera on the lunar lander will be sent to the mission control center via the lunar lander.
The acquired data will be used for evaluation of the localization algorithm and the impact of the regolith on driving performance of the crewed pressurized rover. ispace was selected as a result of an open bidding process for the lunar transportation of the transformable lunar robot and data acquisition and sighed a contract in April 2021.
A joint study on the transformable lunar robot has started since 2016 under the framework of the Request For Proposal (RFP) from the JAXA Space Exploration Innovation Hub, JAXA and TOMY Company, joined by Sony in 2019 and Doshisha University in 2021. The transformable lunar robot will be an ultra-compact and ultra-lightweight robot that can traverse in the harsh lunar environment by employing the miniaturization technologies of TOMY Company and Doshisha University, the control technologies of Sony, and the development technologies for handling the space environment of JAXA. The robot has a feature to transform into a running form after arriving at the lunar surface, which contributes to a reduction in volume during transportation to the Moon. Therefore, it is expected to play active roles in future lunar exploration missions as well.
JAXA will continue to conduct studies for realizing international space exploration by utilizing the lunar landing opportunities and technologies offered by commercial companies.
Fig. 1 Transformable lunar robot (left: before transformation, right: after transformation)
Specifications of the transformable lunar robot (tentative)
Size: approx. 80mm in diameter (before transformation)
Weight: approx. 250g
Fig. 2 Lunar lander
The crewed pressurized rover:
JAXA Space Exploration Innovation Hub:
SASAKI Hiroshi, Vice President, JAXA
In 2019, the Government of Japan decided to participate in the Artemis program which was proposed by the U.S.. Based on the decision, JAXA has been promoting mission development and system studies on international space exploration targeting the Moon and Mars by gathering Japanese technologies and knowledge. In particular, the crewed pressurized rover will play an important role in developing mobility on the lunar surface for sustainable exploration activities. The data on the lunar surface can be obtained by utilizing the transformable lunar robot which is a production of the Space Exploration Innovation Hub and the lunar landing missions of the commercial company. By making the best use of the data, we will surely proceed with the study on the crewed pressurized rover.
TOMIYAMA Kantaro, Representative Director, Chairman & CEO, TOMY Company, Ltd.
“It is only in a country with advanced science and technology that toys can be enhanced.” These are the words of my grandfather, the founder of the company. Our ingenuity to make advanced science and technology more familiar and our unique ideas and technology as a toy company have surprised and impressed many children. I believe that we, as a toy company, have the know-how to attract children better than anyone else.
Since the 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. 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.
TAMAI Hisashi, Senior Vice President, In charge of System and Platform Technology Development, Fundamental Technology Research and Development, R&D Center, Sony Group Corporation
Sony has developed a control system utilizing SPRESENSETM, a compact and power-saving smart sensing processor board for IoT. We are honored to be able to contribute to realizing the lunar exploration mission by applying the control system for the transformable lunar robot. These days, the term "New Space" has become commonly known and the use of consumer products in space is being considered, we will continue to contribute to this field by applying the accumulated technologies and exploring new technologies.
Sony will collaborate with JAXA, TOMY Company and Doshisha University to strongly support future lunar exploration missions.
TANAKA Kazuto, Professor, Faculty of Life and Medical Sciences Department of Biomedical Engineering, Doshisha University
I am glad to know that the miniaturization technology of a robot body developed by Professor Watanabe will contribute to the lunar exploration mission. I hope that students with flexible ideas will be able to tackle such challenging research and new research results will be obtained in the future.
WATANABE Kimitaka, Professor, Faculty of Life and Medical Sciences Department of Biomedical Engineering, Doshisha University
I was involved in a joint research of the transformable lunar robot at JAXA Space Exploration Innovation Hub when I was in TOMY Company, Ltd., and I am still working on the joint research for the lunar exploration mission. I hope that this will lead to making young people interested in science and technology.
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