The International Space Station is getting mobile robot “space avatars” controllable by the public from Earth, courtesy of a joint project between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and ANA Holdings’ telepresence start-up avatarin.
The project will create a virtual remote space tourism experience aimed at those who can't afford to hitch a ride with Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson.
JAXA’s press release reads:
This plan will be promoted under the slogan “SPACE FOR ALL ― open a new era of commercial space travel,” with the hopes of democratizing the commercial space travel era that is rapidly being developed by private space businesses.
This isn’t the first collaboration between JAXA and avatarin. The duo collaborated last year resulting in a technology demonstration of virtual experience enabling robots onboard the KIBO module of the ISS.
The new project builds on that technology demonstration increasing the role of robots onboard the ISS with a new type of avatar that will act as a co-worker for astronauts on the station and on other settings like the moon. Avatars working in this capacity will have high-precision hands. Other avatars will be all about an entertainment experience .
In addition to the two new types of avatars, the project will use an existing type of avatar robot called “newme” as education and public relations tools, giving virtual tours and nurturing interest in space exploration from Earth.
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avatarin will provide the avatars and telepresence tech; JAXA will bring its space experience, knowledge and facilities; and a third party, the University of Tokyo School of Engineering, will pitch in by developing a self-position estimation system.
None of the parties are saying when the avatars will become available for a spot of tele-tourism, but their aspirations already exceed ISS experiences and aim at "possible robotics technologies that can be effectively deployed in future space exploration missions."
And seeing as JAXA has twice landed on asteroids, we may be in for quite a ride. ®