Japan will send a transforming robot ball to the Moon

Japan is prepping an unusual robot to explore the Moon — and it’s clearly influenced by the country’s tech industry. The Byte reports that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has teamed up with Sony, Doshisha University and toy maker Tomy on a ball-shaped transforming robot to study the lunar soil ahead of a crewed rover due in 2029.

The 8.8oz bot will arrive in a compact ball that will help the private robotics company Ispace carry the machine aboard its lunar lander. Once on the surface, it’ll pop open into a “full” configuration that captures images of the Moon’s surface. This will also make the robot useful for future missions, JAXA said.

The contributions aren’t completely surprising. Sony (which knows a thing about rolling robots) provided the control technology for the robot, while Tomy and Doshisha helped miniaturize 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.

Ispace will launch its lander and the transfomer robot in 2022. We wouldn’t count on seeing many space exploration robots like this, but this project hints at a future where shapeshifting designs let landers either carry previously impractical robots or reduce the size of the host vehicle itself.

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