The Indian Space Research Organization launches a legless female robot that can talk and execute tasks like a human astronaut.
The Indian Space Research Organization hasn’t had the best luck recently with its space missions. Back in September, ISRO expected India would soon become the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon through its Chandrayaan-2 mission, but the spacecraft crash-landed because of a braking error.
But ISRO is not coming slow. Without losing hope, ISRO chief Kailasavadivoo Sivan confirmed at the starting of January that a third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, had been given the approval and could launch as soon as this year.
Prior to sending its first crewed mission in late 2021, India will send a humanoid robot called Vyommitra into space. The uncrewed flights are part of the bigger Gaganyaan project, which ultimately will send Indian astronauts into space.
On Wednesday, ISRO uncovered a robot prototype of Vyommitra at a media event in Bengaluru, India, where the robot showed off her conversational abilities. “I can be your companion and converse with the astronauts, recognize them and also respond to their queries,” she said in a thick Indian accent.
At the event, the robot appeared more like a conservative businesswoman donning a gray suit than as astronaut. Perhaps that will come later. She looks human, but more similar to a moving mannequin than an artificial robot from Blade Runner or Westworld.
It will take off later this year and in 2021. The robot’s name is a mishmash of the Sanskrit words for “friend” and “space”, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) molded it after a human woman — however it doesn’t feature any legs.
“It’s called a half humanoid because it doesn’t have legs,” ISRO scientist Sam Dayal told India Today. “It can only bend sideward and forward. It will conduct certain experiments and will always stay in touch with the ISRO command center.”
The robot told journalists it can talk to astronauts, operate switch panels, and supervise a spacecraft’s environmental and life support systems. Its chief purpose, however, is to allow ISRO to test how space flight imapcts the human body before the agency launches astronauts up in one of its Gaganyaan craft.
“It will be mimicking exactly the human functions there. It will ensure whether the system is right. This will be very helpful to simulate as if a human is flying,” ISRO chairman K Sivan informed reporters at the media event where the agency exhibited the robot.
Though Vyomitra’s appearance is sure to move headlines about its perceived gender, the point is that sending robots into space is nothing new. Only last year, one of NASA’s adorable Astrobee robots flew on its own aboard the International Space Station. When it comes to trials of space flight, robots, whatever their shape, are better prepared to handle the stresses related to leaving the earth’s atmosphere than human bodies.