Forward-looking: It appears that the International Space Station (ISS) may be getting a couple of new additions to its crew. Russian space agency Roskosmos has approved a plan to send two full-sized humanoid robots to the ISS in 2019.
According to Defense One, this will not be the first time an agency has sent robots into space. The US has two rovers on Mars, China has a lunar explorer, and Russia has several rovers on both the moon and Mars, but they are now defunct. Also, seven years ago NASA delivered Robonaut 2 to the ISS. It was a 330-pound, remote-controlled android.
What is notable about Russia’s FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) robots is that they will not be delivered as if they are merely machinery. They will “fly for the first time to the ISS as crew members, and not as cargo in the transport compartment,” said Russian website RIA Novosti.
However, the androids will not be piloting the craft. They will be sent up in an unmanned Soyuz rocket controlled from the ground. Russian state media rightly calls the move “good PR.”
“Originally designed for rescue work, FEDOR has since been given the ability to perform various human-like actions such as push-ups, lifting weights, power drilling, driving, and fist-bumping,” said Defense One. “In 2017, FEDOR added shooting guns to its repertoire.”
The addition of the ability to shoot prompted criticism that the Russian Federation was creating Terminator-like robots. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin publicly denied the allegations saying that the skill was only added as part of a broader effort to improve the AI in relation to fine motor controls.
Sam Bendett, a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council verified and recapitulated the prime minister’s claim.
“This was initially designed as a proof of concept — and the space role for this robot was implied from the beginning. It does make for a very effective military ‘android’ in official videos where its shooting guns, but ultimately it’s a dual-use work frame for hard-to-do projects like working in space or in other hazardous environments.”
The FEDOR bots will launch into space destined for the ISS in August of next year.