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Meet Vyommitra, the legless female humanoid robot India's sending to space

The Indian Space Research Organization unveils a female robot that can talk and perform tasks like a human astronaut.

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ISRO will send humanoid robot Vyommitra into space for its next unmanned mission.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The Indian Space Research Organization hasn't had the best luck lately with its space missions. Back in September, ISRO hoped India would become just the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon with its Chandrayaan-2 mission, but the spacecraft crash-landed due to a braking error

But ISRO isn't giving up. ISRO chief Kailasavadivoo Sivan confirmed at the beginning of January that a third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, had been given the go-ahead and could launch as early as this year.  

This time, the organization wants to send a female humanoid robot named Vyommitra on an unmanned mission. The unmanned flights are part of the bigger Gaganyaan project, which eventually will send Indian astronauts into space. 

ISRO unveiled a robot prototype of Vyommitra at a media event in Bengaluru, India, on Wednesday, where the bot showed off her conversational skills. "I can be your companion and converse with the astronauts, recognize them and also respond to their queries," she said in a heavy Indian accent. 

At the event, the robot looked more like a conservative businesswoman in a gray suit than as astronaut. Maybe that will come later. She looks human, but more like a moving mannequin than a synthetic robot from Blade Runner or Westworld.

The robot can also mimic human crew like switch-panel operations, according to ISRO chief Sivan

However, while Vyommitra can chat with astronauts, she's not built to be just like them. The robot doesn't even have a full human-like body. 

"It's called a half humanoid because it doesn't have legs," ISRO scientist Sam Dayal told India Today. "It can only bend sidewards and forward. It will carry out certain experiments and will always remain in touch with the ISRO command center."

Vyommitra will be on board the unmanned missions ISRO has planned for December 2020 and June 2021.

She isn't the first robot who's gone to space. The legless robot Robonaut 2 launched to the ISS in 2011, and performed experiments in a stationary position inside the craft. There's also Kirobo, the Japanese humanoid robot developed to entertain astronauts and sent to the ISS in 2014.