international space station jaxa

Photo via JAXA/ISS

Japan made a cute robot ball and turned it into a space photographer

Int-Ball can send photos and videos in real-time to flight crews back on Earth.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on Jul 17, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 11:40 pm CDT

We’ve seen our share of deceptively cute robots over the years, but nothing comes close to the grapefruit-sized ball Japan has floating around in space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released the first photos and videos taken by the Internal Ball Camera, or “Int-Ball,” a spherical camera that floats either autonomously or by remote control from crews on Earth.

The robot resident captures images that can be sent to flight controllers on the ground. Those shots can then be fed back up to space in real time to the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The cute robot ball was created by JAXA so that its flight crews would no longer need to manually snap photos, a task that takes up 10 percent of their work hours. It also lets flight controllers and researchers see through the eyes of the astronauts, allowing them to better assist with experiments and maintenance.

Int-Ball, which weighs 2.2 pounds and has a six-inch diameter, was created entirely by 3D printing, and uses 12 fans as engines for moving around in zero gravity. The robot drone also has a built-in camera that looks for pink “3D Target Markers,” which remind it where it is positioned. The main camera, nestled between Int-Ball’s mesmerizing blue eyes, is capable of recording images from any angle.

Int-Ball was sent to Japan’s Kibo, a laboratory and the largest module on the ISS, in June. JAXA says it will continue to expand the robot’s functions and make it available for future space experiments.

H/T Engadget

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*First Published: Jul 17, 2017, 11:41 am CDT