The Real Replicants Helping Us Explore Space

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-20 11:33

Real-life “replicants”, or human-like robots, are helping us make space exploration more manageable for our astronauts.



The 1982 movie Blade and its 2017 sequel Blade 2049 feature characters called “replicants”, or robots that could pass as humans. However, replicants are stronger, faster, and maybe even more intelligent than their creators. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see replicants like the ones on Blade anytime soon, we may already have what could be their predecessors.


Science fiction is no stranger to anthropomorphic robots working in space. After all, in the first Blade, a replicant named Roy Batty spoke of working in outer space. Meanwhile, in the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, androids were also used for labor in outer space.


Reality isn’t too far from fiction after all. Presently, we have humanoid robots helping us with various things in outer space. Here are three robots currently aiding astronauts beyond planet Earth.

Robonaut 2

Robonaut 2 with an instrument that measures that air velocity on board the ISS [Photo by NASA]



Robonaut 2 is a pioneer, with the distinction of being the first humanoid robot to ever reach outer space and has been on the International Space Station since 2011.


What, however, is the benefit of designing a robot with a humanoid form? Robonaut 2’s job on the ISS is to complete mundane or dangerous tasks so astronauts won’t have to. A humanoid design gives the robot the ability to perform tasks that astronauts would previously handle. Robonaut 2, according to NASA, is close to becoming as dextrous as a human astronaut.


Kirobo with his human partner, astronaut Koichi Wakata [Photo by the Kibo Robot Project]



Kirobo is another pioneer, being Japan’s first-ever robot astronaut and the first-ever Japanese commander on the ISS. It launched to the space station in 2013, aboard the cargo ship HTV-4. It was also in 2013 that Kirobo had its first conversation in space with astronaut Koichi Wakata. As of now, however, the robot only speaks Japanese. Its mission was to test robot-human interactions in space.


Kirobo and its Earth-bound twin Mirata can both recognize faces, voices, as well as emotions.


AILA demonstrates her skills [Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]



AILA, a robot created by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, is able to mimic human movements just by recording what we do. The robot then analyzes the movements bit by bit, then is able to learn new movements by building up these bits of information.


AILA’s learning techniques may prove useful in improving robots that work inside and outside a space station. “Outside” can include the moon and even Mars.

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