Japan has long been trying to stand out when it comes to space exploration. Its latest effort, recently announced by The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), involves getting the moon ready for permanent crewed missions within the next decade. To do so, they’re deploying what, on first glance, seems to be a cross between a transformer and a pokéball. This Japanese moon transformer will be sent to the surface of the moon next year to survey the lunar surface ahead of a crewed rover due in 2029.
According to The Byte, the lightweight spherical robot is the result of a partnership between JAXA, Sony, Doshisha University and toy maker Tomy. The 250g orb will arrive in a compact ball, according to Engadget, and once on the moon’s surface, the magic happens. The robot will transform itself – by pushing itself into two halves which will then serve as wheels – in order to drive across the surface, collecting lunar dust and capturing images.
“The mission for the tiny robot will be to test the regolith (moon dust) that covers the surface of the moon to better inform decisions regarding how to build a manned rover,” reports Phys.org. it will also be studying the impact of the moons gravity on the regolith.
According to Engadget, the involvement of companies like Sony and Tomy in this space mission doesn’t come as much of a surprise. “Sony (which knows a thing about rolling robots) provided the control technology for the robot, while Tomy and Doshisha helped miniaturise the design. Work on the robot started with a study in 2016, but the effort mainly solidified with Sony’s entrance in 2019 and Doshisha’s in 2021″.
The introduction of this technology hints at a future in which shapeshifting technology – transformers, really – play a much bigger role in exploration both on and off of the surface of the earth.
Although there are quips to be made about the robot’s resemblance to the iconic tech that many of us grew up seeing on TV, this little moon orb may change everything for JAXA. If the mission of the Japanese moon transformer is successful, the country stands a chance to join the exclusive (and small) club of only three countries that have managed to smoothly land spacecraft on our Moon — the US, the Soviet Union, and China. Perhaps, finally, in doing so, the Island nation will earn its space program the global credibility it’s been striving for for decades.