Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Moonwalking, Robot-Style

TOKYO—For those wondering where Japan’s intense interest in humanoid robot research is headed, look to the night sky. On 3 April, a government advisory group suggested sending a bipedal robot to explore the moon by 2020. The group has left details such as the robot's capabilities and the cost of such an endeavor to further study.

Robotics watchers have been intrigued by recent progress in humanoid robots in Japan. A female-looking humanoid (left in picture) with the slender proportions—though not quite the grace—of a fashion model debuted on 16 March. A week later, it (she?) shared a catwalk with the real models that inspired its development by researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba. (Press release in Japanese, video one, two, and three.) Then on 31 March, researchers at Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International showed how someone wearing a helmet studded with sensors to monitor neural electrical activity and cerebral blood flow can control the movement of Honda Motor Co.'s Asimo humanoid just by thinking. Think of raising a hand, for example, and Asimo raises its (his?). (Press release in Japanese.)

A moonwalking robot would be a natural, if extraterrestrial, progression. The advisory group that recommended sending an android into space is under Japan's Strategic Headquarters for Space Development, which was set up last September to further Japan's space-related scientific and technological achievements. The group would like to increase use of domestically developed rockets to launch more satellites for Earth observation and space science. Mindful of North Korea's apparent ambitions, they are also urging the Japanese government to develop an early warning system to detect missile launches throughout Asia. Sending robots to the moon would be a step toward a crewed mission, according to a document released by the Strategic Headquarters.

The plan, now in outline form, will be fleshed out later this month and then opened for comment from humankind.