Toyota heading to moon with cruiser, robotic arms, dreams

TOKYO (AP) – Toyota is working with Japan’s space agency on a vehicle to explore the lunar surface, with the ambition to help humans live on the moon by 2040 and then start living on Mars, company officials said Friday.

The vehicle being developed together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called Lunar Cruiser, whose name is a tribute to the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV. The launch is planned for the end of 2020.

The vehicle is based on the idea that people eat, work, sleep and communicate with others safely in cars, and the same can be done in space, said Takao Sato, head of the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota Motor Corp.

“We see space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation. By going to space, we may be able to develop telecommunications and other technology that will be valuable to human life,” Sato told The Associated Press.

Gitai Japan Inc., a company contracted with Toyota, has developed a robotic arm for the Lunar Cruiser, designed to perform tasks such as inspection and maintenance. The “gripper attachment” allows the end of the arm to be changed so that it can work as different tools, shoveling, lifting and sweeping.

Gitai Chief Executive Sho Nakanose said he felt the challenge of flying into space has basically been met, but working in space comes with great costs and dangers for astronauts. That’s where robots would come in handy, he said.

Since its founding in the 1930s, Toyota has been concerned about the loss of a core business due to changing times. It has ventured into homes, boats, jets and robots. The grid-connected sustainable living space near Mount Fuji, called Woven City, will begin construction this year.

The Japanese fascination with the moon has grown.

A private Japanese company called ispace Inc. is working on moon rovers, landing and turning, and is scheduled for a moon landing later this year. Businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who recently videoed himself floating around the International Space Station, has booked a moon orbit aboard Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Starship.

Toyota engineer Shinichiro Noda said he is excited about the moon project, an extension of the automaker’s long-standing mission to serve customers and that the moon could provide valuable resources for life on Earth.

“Sending our cars to the moon is our mission,” he said. Toyota has vehicles almost everywhere. “But this is about taking our cars to a place we’ve never been before.”


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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