In space… no one can hear you squeal as you encounter a cuddly, toy-like robot. Nevertheless, Japan is aiming to bring the cuteness of plush toys to astronauts as cuddly robots enter testing for space missions.
During recent tests at the United States’ Mars Desert Research Station simulation, Japan tested the addition of cuddly robots into space missions. The test was designed to reduce the stress of astronauts while working.
Dubbed Paro, the new robotic tools are designed after plush animals. At the time of writing, Paro is made in the form of a cute plush baby harp seal, and it does look thoroughly adorable.
“We studied how Paro mitigated feelings of stress and isolation and the data will be useful in supporting research on future analogue missions,” a report acquired by SCMP reads. “Half of the crew enjoyed time with Paro during the first week, while the others had access to him during week two.”
The Paro robot has already been used in other projects in the past. For example, the soft-toy robot was used to reduce the stress levels of elderly people staying at care homes, but active-mission astronauts are a much different demographic. The robot has also been used to reduce anxiety in autistic children.
The 57-centimetre, 2.6-kilogram robot is built with a network of motors that allow its body to move realistically. It also comes equipped with microphones and touch-sensitive whiskers to respond to human interactions.
If the robot is helpful to astronauts, it may be taken to future missions on Mars, when they finally occur in the 2030s. Japan hopes that the robot will offer the same benefits as an emotional support animal, but are able to actually be taken to Mars. (Well, you can take an animal to Mars, it just won’t survive very long.)
With missions on the surface of Mars expected to take multiple years, a long-lasting companion will be good for crew morale. Well, if they don’t all flip out and turn against the cute robotic baby seal. You never know what’s gonna happen on Mars, because we haven’t been there yet.