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Surprising Science

Are Robonauts Better Than Astronauts?

One of the biggest problems with sending humans into space is that they’re needy. Their frail bodies have a hard time living in zero gravity and require years of training and specialization just to go up into space. What if instead we could send robots? It would also be far cheaper. Michio Kaku, Big Think‘s resident futurist and author of The Future of the Mind, explores the possibilities of robot astronauts, or robotnauts. 

“When you saw the movie Surrogates you said, ‘Well, that’s science fiction’ when Bruce Willis has a mechanical robot who is perfect,” says Kaku. “This sounds like science fiction, right?  Or the movie Avatar where again you’re put inside a pod and you control an alien being on another planet breathing poisonous air.  Is that possible?  The answer is definitely yes.  In Japan, scientists at Honda Corporation have made a robot called ASIMO. It’s one of the most advanced robots ever made.” 

One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, Avatar‘s pods may be a reality. “ASIMO, the size of a young boy, can run, walk, climb up stairs and even dance.  In fact he dances better than me.  I’ve been on science specials with him and he out dances me every time,” says Kaku. “Honda Corporation has now taken a worker, put on an EEG helmet and have him control the robot.  So it’s now possible that you can have a surrogate.”

Kaku says that ASIMO represents the potential for space exploration: robotnauts can explore hostile environments for us. It can not only advance science but can help open up the industry of affordable space tourism. We can go on “space vacations” by living viscerally through a robot surrogate. 

“So why not put surrogates on Mars, surrogates on the Moon, and you the astronaut can just take a breather and go into your living room and mentally communicate with a robot on the Moon,” says Kaku. “This would be by far the cheapest way to have a permanent Moon base.” 

Watch a clip of Kaku’s video interview with Big Think


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