Russia will send its first android robot to the International Space Station. The SAR-400 will perform operations that are fairly simple, yet could pose a risk for astronauts such as unloading space cargo, screwing bolts or sealing cracks on the station’s outer surface. And during its free hours, it will entertain the crew by playing chess or checkers.
SAR-400 can be remotely controlled from Earth and can copy the movements of a ground-based operator. If the operator raises his right arm or takes a pencil and starts writing the robot will do the same. But it can also work in an autonomous mode and even make independent decisions within its software framework.
Andrei Nosov, the head of the Moscow-based android engineering center, told the Voice of Russia that the key mission of the space android was to reduce risks for the crew.
"A human life is the most important thing. There are lots of risks up in orbit. Anything can happen. A robot can duplicate the movements of an operator that manipulates it from Earth. It can work both in a duplicate mode and an autonomous mode. This is convenient, less risky and less expensive."
The robot will make it possible to perform risky manipulations the standard robotized systems are unable to cope with during standard situations or emergencies at minimal psychological and energy costs.
Academician Alexander Zheleznyakov of the Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics said that to avoid a feeling of psychological discomfort in the crew, the robot had been made to look as human as possible.
"Human-looking androids are easier for humans to perceive. The crew will find it more convenient and pleasant to deal with human-looking technical devices. It will compensate for a lack of communication with other humans. Earlier, emphasis was put on the functionality of robots. The creation of a full-sized android is a major step forward."
Work aboard the ISS is just a preparatory stage for future interplanetary flights. After 2014, androids will be flown to the Moon, Mars and other planets. They can send back not just images or sounds but also tactile impressions using special software that measures the pressure on the outer surface of a robot’s manipulator glove and feeds it right onto an operator’s palm on Earth.
The Americans were the first to bring a space android to the ISS but have been unable to use it so far after something went wrong. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan are planning to send their own androids into orbit.