Since the1980s, the Japanese industry has fully recognized the potential of space and space robotics. Japan has involved national research laboratories, universities, private companies and government agencies. Annually, more and more Japanese companies become engaged in the space robotics research.
The main contribution of Japan to the international Space Station Freedom project is the Japanese Experimental Module (JEM). This robotics system is an impressive technology for a trivial observer and highly valuable for the space robotics development.
The JEM is a space laboratory for experiments in such areas, as biology and a crystal growth. When launched, the JEM is to have a special module for researches, an exposed facility for experiments and a remote manipulator system (RMS) to maintain the exposed facility and service the experiments. The exposed facility is designed as a robotics system, eliminating the need for astronauts to accomplish complicated repair functions and facility maintenance.
The RMS has a large arm and a small fine arm (SFA). The large robotic arm is constructed to conduct major assembly tasks and functions and to transport the SFA that provides dexterity. The JEM's large arm is mounted on the pressurized module above the airlock and is a huge manipulator of almost ten meters long and a mass of three hundred and seventy kgs. The robotic arm has two mounted cameras, allowing an operator at a workstation to view the actions of the arm. The small fine arm depends on the large arm for transport, positioning and stabilization; the small arm includes an interface with the large arm, an electronics module, a camera, a manipulator and an end effector. The images of its work are also provided on the video monitor at the workstation. There is also an active compliance effector (ACE), mounted at the end of the large arm that is responsible for the maintenance of smaller motions in compensating for inaccuracies of the large arm.
Along with the participation in the project of the Space Station Freedom, the Japanese develop their own space laboratory, the Cosmo-Lab.
As for the exploration of other planets' surfaces, the Japanese also speculate on the appliance of robotics technologies for the surface exploration. Severe conditions of other planets, comprising including radiation, heat and coldness, and a rough landscape, require mobile robots with a competent motion - both in a soft and hard terrain. Surface exploration robots should be also physically autonomous, durable and self-contained. These robots-explorers are planned to investigate soil characteristics, as well as to collect samples and confirm the presence or absence of water on other planets, including the Moon and Mars.
In fact, the Japanese space robotics is based and a counterpart of their general robot system investigations and research. Japan is the only country in the world that performs an incomparable advance in the research for future generations of robots. The outstanding achievement is a flexible finger system, controlled by pneumatic servos. Each finger is a hollow rubber cylinder, moved by varying the pressure that is capable of a fine, controlled movement, such as threading a bolt into a plate.
The inventions of the similar scale and importance are numerous in practice of the Japanese modern robotics. The Japanese robotics researchers have developed a great deal of novel mechanisms, valuable for their future applications in the world space research.