February 17, 2011

Human-like Robots Heading To Space Station

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to carry out feasibility studies before making a final decision on sending a robot to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2013, a JAXA official tells AFP. The humanoid robot will communicate with people on Earth through Twitter messages.

The Japanese robot is also expected to take pictures and send messages through microblog site Twitter, Sano said, adding that it can "tweet" simple words such as "good morning" and "good night" as well as indicate its location above Earth.

The robot will also analyze astronauts' stress levels by detecting changes in their tone of voice and facial expressions, which will be used to study the effectiveness of stress relief measures.

"As the society is greying, I hope this project will lead to (creating a system) to facilitate communications with elderly people isolated in remote places and with family members through a robot," JAXA engineer Satoshi Sano says.

Leading the world in robotic industries in fields ranging from manufacturing to entertainment and security, Japan's Toyota and Honda have already unveiled several types of humanoid robots.

NASA also plans to send a humanoid robot of its own, developed with General Motors, to the ISS on board the space shuttle Discovery on February 24 to support astronauts' operations.

Having a human-like head, hands and arms and uses the same tools as station crew members and named "ËœR2' "” a shout-out to R2-D2 of "Star Wars" fame "” this robot is intended to carry out maintenance tasks in the station's Destiny lab and watch the mission while astronauts are asleep, along with monitoring their health.

NASA is hoping that humanoid robots one day will take the place of astronauts during space walks or perform tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans. For now, the $2.5 million NASA robot exists only from the waist up and is limited to activities within the lab.

The Japanese project is intended to improve on the R2 idea by building a more communicative companion for the astronauts. Although Japan has no manned space program of its own, its astronauts have been part of the space station crew and Japan also maintains a laboratory, called "Kibo," on the station.

Sano tells AP that JAXA hopes the robot's communications with Earth while there are no Japanese passengers on the ISS will help maintain public interest and support in the mission.


On the Net: