The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has teamed up with Sony, Doshisha University, and toymaker Tomy to send a transforming rover roughly the size of a baseball to the Moon. What a time to be alive, amirite?
And this little bot has a huge responsibility: It’ll gather comprehensive data about the lunar surface so that JAXA’s crewed rover, set to launch in 2029, can get around. To further develop the autonomous driving technology and cruising technology that the rover will use on its voyage, JAXA needs to study the potential impacts of the Moon’s gravity, which is one-sixth of that on Earth, and the layer of regolith, aka Moon dirt, that covers its surface, the agency said in an announcement this week first spotted by The Byte.
The “ultra-compact and ultra-lightweight robot” will measure approximately 3.1 inches (80 mm) in diameter and weigh about half a pound (250 g). It’ll hitch a ride on a lunar lander from the Japanese company ispace, where it will begin the trip as a compact ball and then pop open into its “running form” after arriving at the Moon’s surface.
“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,” JAXA said.
JAXA has been working on the bot since 2016 alongside Tomy, the Japanese toy manufacturer behind Transformers and Beyblades. Sony (which knows a thing or two about rolling robots) signed onto the project in 2019 and provided the robot’s control system, while Doshisha University joined in 2021 and assisted Tomy in miniaturizing its overall design.
“Since the [company’s] 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,” said Tomy CEO and chairman Kantaro Tomiyama in JAXA’s press release. “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.”
The little robo-ball that could is heading to the Moon in 2022. Given its compact design and versatility, it’s “expected to play active roles in future lunar exploration missions as well,” JAXA said. You go, lil dude.