Le rover R1, conçu par la firme robotique Gitai, transite sur un faux terrain lunaire reproduit par la Jaxa. © Gitai, Jaxa

This lunar exploration robot is surprisingly agile with almost human movements!

In December 2021, Japanese robotics company Gitai tested its R1 rover, commissioned by Jaxa and set to travel to the moon. A video released a few months later makes it possible to admire the capabilities of the device in realistic conditions that reproduce the properties of the lunar regolith.

In parallel with the Artemis program, some space agencies are preparing their next arrival on the moon with rovers. This is the case with the Japanese space agency in partnership with the Japanese company specializing in robotics, Gita. In September 2020, Jaxa announced the establishment of a collaboration with the private company to design robot assigned to carry out missions in space.

To do this, Gitai has developed a multifunction rover that is soberly called the R1. In December 2021, R1’s capabilities were tested under realistic conditions on a surface that mimics a lunar plane and its peculiarities. In a video released in February 2022, the robot impresses with its fluidity and capabilities. The rover can easily maneuver and change direction, overcome natural obstacles or even pick up objects on the ground. The experiment took place on the Sagamihara campus in Japan.

A marvel of technology

R1 is equipped with four legs whose multi-directional wheels allow the rover to quickly adjust its position. The test shows the unit’s ability to negotiate obstacles and medium-sized rocks while raising or lowering the rover’s fuselage. Thanks to its mobility, it can also climb slopes estimated to be between 15 and 20 degrees.

Two articulated arms attached to the front of the robot allow collecting regoliths on the ground. Grippers positioned at the end of the arms can use a small shovel to drop lunar dust samples into a container, which is then capped by the rover before being stored in a container. The arms, which are divided into several parts, give R1 a large range of motion. The device, controlled remotely by a technician, performs precise and technical gestures: it can easily unfasten a strap from a package, move and use tools. Gitai demonstrates its know-how by having its rover built a communication relay and a set of solar panels. R1 carries out with precision the movements necessary to assemble the structure, screwing the supports or adjusting the position of the solar panels.

R1, more efficient than a human?

The collaboration between Jaxa and Gitai aims to democratize robotic missions to space and the moon. L’Japanese space agency wants to oversee operations with reduced financial costs, with robots working efficiently where humans cannot reach. On his side Internetthe Japanese company reveals its ambitions: participate in the construction of lunar bases and Martians as early as the 2040s and beyond.

Regarding the R1 rover, the impressive technical demonstration of December 2021 should confirm the Japanese space agency in its ambition for robotic missions to the moon. Gitai hints under the rover’s video presentation that the latter could quickly make its first turns in the lunar dust as early as 2025.

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