London: A walking robot on the moon? Well, it could someday be a reality -- thanks to a group of Japanese companies which is actually planning to land a humanoid robot on the Earth`s satellite by 2015.
According to the `New Scientist`, the ambitious plan was announced last week by a small cooperative of companies in Osaka called Astro-Technology SOHLA, which launched a small satellite called Maido-1 to study lightning in January 2009.
The group hopes that its robot, dubbed Maido-kun, could hitch a ride to the moon with a robotic mission set to be launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA in about five
years, the magazine quoted a Japanese media report as saying. In fact, the `Daily Yomiuri` newspaper said that JAXA had previously opted against sending a bipedal robot to the moon because its footing would not be steady on the sandy lunar surface.
But SOHLA president Hideo Sugimoto countered that a walking robot would be more inspiring than a wheeled rover, adding that Maido-kun would draw the Japanese flag on the moon`s surface.
"We decided on a human-like robot because it`s more fascinating and stimulating for us. We`ll make an attractive robot to carry our dreams to the universe," Sugimoto was
quoted as saying.
The project, estimated to cost about US dollars 10 million to develop, will not be a walk in the park.
"Designing a robot that can balance and move on two legs will be a major challenge. Human beings are relatively unstable, and when designing robots for unpredictable terrain, three legs are better than two," Roger La-Brooy of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia said.
If the robot were to fall over, it could have trouble getting up again, says Rodney Brooks, a roboticist at MIT.
"Human-sized robots have been designed to pick themselves up on Earth, but this has not been demonstrated robustly. On the other hand, the moon`s gravity is only one-sixth as strong as Earth`s, so things might be easier there," he said.