JAXA Developing Humanoid Robot For ISS Astronauts
December 3, 2012

JAXA Creates A Little Space Buddy For Lonely Astronauts

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

It can get cold and lonely up there in the dark, vast expanses of outer space. It´s bad enough feeling utterly alone, but to know it, to see just how far away you are physically separated from any other human being, can make spending 6 months in the International Space Station a little unbearable.

Therefore, some researchers from the University of Tokyo, in conjunction with robot maker Tomotaka Takahashi and ad agency Dentsu, have been working to create a companion to hang out with the astronauts when they´re in the confines of the ISS.

The group has created a tiny, humanoid robot which is set to be launched into space by next summer. This android is said to measure 13.4 inches high and weigh only 2.2 pounds. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata is slated to spend half a year in the ISS beginning next summer. Astronaut´s Little Helper is set to arrive a few months before Wakata and anxiously await his arrival.

According to Satoshi Sano with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this android will do more than just keep Wakata company; It will also be used to keep Wakata cool and collected by offering some soothing facial expressions and speaking some calming words. This robot will also be another link back home, sending out Tweets to his Earthbound followers as well as capturing video of Wakata. The robot can also watch Wakata´s face to look for any signs of stress and then report them to back to JAXA.

This little mechanical pal will also have a twin sibling back on Earth. This secondary bot will travel terra firma, giving demonstrations on how the space-bound bot operates. In a pinch, this second bot can also be sent into space in the unlikely event that the first bot channels his inner Marvin the Paranoid Android and drive Wakata and crew to madness. The creators of these robots have issued a statement, saying these androids have been designed to "help solve social problems through communication.”

"The main objective is that humans can talk to it and feel some sort of closeness to it," explained the developers.

"That is why we decided to give it a humanoid shape."

Though we know what this little robot is capable of and how JAXA plans to use it, we´ve yet to see a working prototype or know what name it´s been given. At the moment, there´s only been a sketch revealed of this tiny robot. As you might expect, by the sketch, this robot appears to have all the Mega-Man and Anime influences you´d expect from a space-bound android. It´s got large, discus eyes and a rounded helmet, as well as forearms and wrists which are twice the size of its arms. It also appears to have some very stylish red boots which complete the entire ensemble. In other words, this robot looks ready to battle the intergalactic forces of evil, a sad realization considering it´s meant to make faces and say a few brief phrases in Japanese to some lonely astronauts.

The robot is still unnamed, and the Kibo Laboratory (where this android will be sending its information once it´s space-bound) is asking the public to suggest some names for these robots.