Science

Toyota looks to the moon and beyond with new lunar vehicle

The company is looking towards a time when people will live on the moon – and after that, Mars.

Toyota is working with Japan’s space agency to produce a lunar exploration vehicle as part of its ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040, and beyond that – Mars.

The vehicle being developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called the Lunar Cruiser, with the name paying homage to the Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle.

Its launch is set for the late 2020s.

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 outer space, said Takao Sato, who heads the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota.

Robotic arm
A robotic arm specially developed for the vehicle (Toyota via AP)

He told the AP: “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 prove valuable to human life.”

Gitai Japan, a venture contracted with Toyota, has developed a robotic arm for the Lunar Cruiser, designed to perform tasks such as inspection and maintenance.

Its “grapple fixture” allows the arm’s end to be changed so it can work like different tools, scooping, lifting and sweeping.

Lunar cruiser
Toyota is working with Japan’s space agency on the Lunar Cruiser (Toyota via AP)

Gitai chief executive Sho Nakanose said he felt the challenge of blasting off into space has basically been met, but working in space entails big costs and hazards for astronauts.

That is where robots would come in handy, he said.

Since its founding in the 1930s, Toyota has fretted about losing a core business because of changing times.

It has ventured into housing, boats, jets and robots. Construction is set to start this year on its net-connected sustainable living quarters near Mount Fuji, called Woven City.

The Lunar Cruiser
The company has ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040 (Toyota via AP)

Japanese fascination with the moon has been growing.

A private Japanese venture called ispace is working on lunar rovers, landing and orbiting, and is scheduled for a moon landing later this year.

Businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who recently took videos of himself floating around in the International Space Station, has booked an orbit around the moon aboard Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Starship.

Toyota engineer Shinichiro Noda said he is excited about the lunar project, an extension of the car maker’s long-time mission to serve customers, and added that the moon may provide valuable resources for life on Earth.

“Sending our cars to the moon is our mission,” he said. He added that Toyota has vehicles almost everywhere, “but this is about taking our cars to somewhere we have never been”.

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