Gitai wants to build a robotic work force for the moon and Mars
There is a flurry of commercial space ventures focused on the moon, with established companies and newcomers all seeking to transform this cold, gray rock into a thriving center for scientific and industrial activity. But that future will likely be impossible without a suite of robotic assistants.
Tokyo-based startup Gitai believes that autonomous robots, instead of human labor, can and should be used to make this vision a reality. The company believes the robots could be used for many activities in space, from assembly to inspection to routine maintenance. To this end, the company has developed a robotic arm and a robotic rover for space applications.
Its technology has attracted continued interest from investors, with the company announcing today that it has closed $30 million (4 billion yen) in a Fund Series B extension round and Japanese venture capital firms. These include Global Brain CVC Funds, DCI Venture Growth Fund, Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Ltd, ANRI III Investment Limited Partnership, ANRI I-II-III Annex Investment Limited Partnership, NVC No. 1 Limited Liability Partnership, JIC Venture Growth Fund 2 Investment Limited Partnership, Electric Power Development Company and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital IX Limited Partnership.
Gitai plans to direct all new funding towards building its US-based workforce and expanding its US manufacturing and testing capacity. It’s a mark of the seriousness with which the startup takes its US operations.
“We are going to invest in the United States,” Gitai CEO Sho Nakanose said in a recent interview. Nakanose, who recently moved to the Los Angeles area, said more than half of Japan’s workforce, including engineers, also moved to the United States. Gitai has already stopped hiring in Japan and will instead increase its US workforce by 20 by the end of it. this year, and 40-50 by the end of next year.
The company is building test facilities for its robotics, including a simulated lunar environment and a vacuum chamber.
The end goal is to increase the technology readiness level – a measurement system used by NASA and other government programs to gauge the maturity of a given technology – of its two core robotic products. The robotic arm has already spent time in space, when the company conducted a technology demonstration with it on the International Space Station in 2021. Gitai is currently preparing for a second technology demonstration of the robotic arm next year – which will take place outside the ISS, a considerably more difficult undertaking – and hopes to send the rover to the moon as early as 2026.
These are big steps for the seven-year-old startup, especially since the company’s initial goal wasn’t necessarily to get into the space market. Nakanose explained in a recent interview that when he founded the company, the space industry was the last market on his list. “I was looking for more solid and practical opportunities,” he said.
But he soon realized that land robots had to overcome a major market challenge: human labor. “It’s so difficult for robotic capability to overcome human labor, especially in terms of cost,” he explained.
The space industry, on the other hand, presents unique opportunities for robotics developers. Right now, robotic arms attached to the ISS are expensive – the multi-phase program to develop a third-generation “Canadarm” robotic arm attached to the outside of the ISS is valued at $1.2 billion of dollars. But neither is astronaut work the answer: it’s still very expensive and dangerous to send a single human into space, let alone send them to conduct extravehicular activity outside the station.
Private companies developing private space stations — including Vast, Blue Origin, Voyager Space and Axiom Space — will also likely seek cheaper alternatives to legacy robotics from the ISS. Gitai could meet this imminent market need with its robotic arm.
“While SpaceX and Blue Origin are reducing the cost of transportation to space by 100 times, at Gitai we are rising to the challenge of reducing labor costs by 100 times,” Nakanose said. “We will provide the most manpower for the moon and Mars and build infrastructure such as solar panels, communication antennas, fuel generators and habitation modules.”