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A lunar rover weighing only 500g. Interview with Mr. Daimon Nakajima who develops YAOKI which will land on the moon in 2023 after developing alone for 8 years


“I want to create opportunities for human evolution.”

Mr. Shinichiro Nakajima, who has a big vision and is taking on the challenge of private lunar exploration, has this to say.

NASA is promoting a manned lunar exploration "Artemis Project" for the first time in 50 years since the Apollo program, and many space venture companies are following suit. This time, we will develop an ultra-compact lunar rover that is overwhelmingly lightweight. Daimon Co., Ltd. We interviewed Mr. Shinichiro Nakajima, the representative director.

A lunar rover weighing only 500g

Please give us an overview of Daimon's business.

We are developing the lunar rover "YAOKI". It is characterized by its light weight, small size and being a two-wheeled rover. In the past, 5kg was said to be the minimum weight for a lunar rover, but our YAOKI has achieved a weight of 500g. And since it has an oval structure like a rugby ball, it can get up and run again even if it is flipped over on the moon.

How exactly does the lunar rover YAOKI operate?

Operations on the moon are remote operations from Earth. We steer by relying on the images taken by the camera mounted on the lunar rover. Even if it's not a video but an image, it takes more than 4 seconds for the data to reach the earth, so it's difficult to perform delicate operations with high accuracy. , can be operated without problems.

I understand that Mr. Nakajima spent a long time developing the lunar rover by himself. Please tell us how it was developed.

Ten years ago from now, we have been consistently building lunar rovers since our founding. At that time, there were no plans to go to the moon. I started the development with the expectation that a rocket would be built for a mission to the moon someday, but it was difficult to carry out research and development without seeing the possibility that my rover would actually be used. For the first five years or so, even if we invested in development costs, it was possible that it wouldn't come to fruition, so it was a particularly difficult situation mentally. I felt that if I could not go to the moon anyway, I should give up.

After overcoming those difficulties, I was able to sign a contract with NASA for a mission in 2019. We have overcome the hurdle of whether or not lunar exploration is possible, but the next hurdle is monetization, which must be established as a business. There was no profit for about two years after the contract, and there was a time when we were in a difficult financial situation, partly because sales were slower than expected.

I think that an American company is currently preparing for transportation on the lunar lander under development (*). What is the most difficult part of the preparation process?

*YAOKI will be installed on the lunar lander "Nova-C" developed by Intuitive Machines, an American space startup. (Reference URL)

It was the first time for both of us, and it was an unprecedented situation, so the conditions had not been decided in the first place. After the conditions were decided, it was difficult to clear the technical verification. For example, we are repeating vibration tests multiple times to check if it can handle the vibrations that occur when launching a rocket. Space is a vacuum, and the difference in temperature (thermal vacuum) is extreme, so it is necessary to make it resistant to that. It was difficult to clear those two points.

You have announced a partnership agreement with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation in April 2021. Please tell us about the impetus.

In 2019, we signed a contract with an American venture company, Astrobotic Technology, but for about a year after that, there were no orders that would lead to business, such as collaboration with other companies. At that time, we were looking for a partnership with a major company. As a team of less than 10 people, Dimon is limited in what it can do, and in order to target the new market of lunar surface development, it was necessary to have a solid track record in other markets.

In terms of macro movements, several private companies entered the lunar surface development market as a result of NASA's mission, and it was also a time when the concept of "creating a city on the moon by 2030" was emerging. Mitsubishi Chemical also wanted to target new markets, and saw the potential of the lunar surface development market, and contacted us.

Original experience of the Apollo program in childhood

What kind of things did you think about when you were a student?

One of my original experiences was the Apollo program, and I still remember watching the first human landing on the moon on TV. I went to see the moon rocks at the Osaka Expo, and since I was a child, I have been very interested in the moon because it is a very mysterious thing. Also, when you were a student, you were in the astronomy department.

After that, Mr. Nakajima, I heard that you worked as a drive system engineer for a global company.

It was a fairly large global company, so it's been useful in negotiations with American companies that are currently underway. The German company I worked for had 300,000 global employees. Most of the large domestic and foreign companies we are currently dealing with are smaller than that, so we are able to negotiate without any hesitation.

I also have experience in positions as a representative of a large company. Now, I am the CEO and not an employee, but I understand the position of the person in charge of the other party negotiating with Dimon and the position of an organization member, and I can talk about what kind of information and results I will give to that person. I can understand how to proceed. Looking back now, I feel that I had a very valuable experience before starting my own business.

In 2021, the start of “Project YAOKI”, which collected a total of 100 million yen in sponsorship from multiple companies, was announced. Please tell us what was difficult about gathering sponsors and what was appreciated.

When I started "Project YAOKI", I was still the only member of Daimon. Although the lunar rover YAOKI was highly evaluated and a contract was concluded, monetization was difficult. Meanwhile, Mr. Miyake, the current COO, participated in the project. While discussing with Mr. Miyake, we decided to prioritize continuous sales creation rather than receiving a large investment at a stage when there was no sales, so we decided to close the funding route and focus on monetization.

At first, I was doing business in the form of data sales, but it didn't go well at all. As a start-up, there was a lot of uncertainty, and as a company, we were unable to get a concrete image of lunar exploration even after listening to our story. From there, we changed our policy and started sales that included talk about PR effects in the form of technical partners and sponsors. As a major company, we had a dream of "lunar exploration" and felt that it was an advanced image that would cut into the future market.

Aiming for the Moon with a Small Team

How many teams are you currently working on?

Since we are not actively raising funds, we are working with a small team. It's still the same, but the current members are only referrals, and 100% of the people who knew about Daimon's efforts from the beginning said they wanted to join. There were people who joined the company saying they wanted to work at Dimon, even if the conditions were lower than their previous job.

Please tell us about the characteristics of the people you want Dimon to participate in.

It's good to have people who have the feeling of "making decisions on their own". Since lunar exploration by a private company is unprecedented, there are many things that no one knows or has never experienced. It is important to have the mindset to think for yourself without any prerequisites, and to be responsible for promoting your own intentions, whether it is Plan A or Plan B.

People who can create work by themselves seem to be a good match.

That's right. In addition, he is a person with a mind that can flexibly grasp the scope of his work. There aren't many daimon now, so it's difficult to clearly divide roles. I think that people who can see the situation on their own and take action on their own will be able to play an active role, and the current members are all such people. On the other hand, since there are no people with experience in lunar exploration, we rarely ask for skills. I believe that if you are a proactive person, your skills will definitely improve.

What kind of people are your current employees?

We currently have 6 employees, but all of them joined us because of their original connections and encounters during the course of their business. My old friends, executives of partner companies, and my wife. Mr. N, who is currently developing next to me, was originally a member of the space business online salon I was a part of.

Editorial department

The interview was held in Dimon's office, and right next to him was an engineer staring at a PC and a Rover prototype.

That's right! Would it be possible to talk to Mr. N for a little while?

Mr. Nakajima: OK. Mr. N, can I have a minute?

Mr. N: Yes, it's okay.

Thank you for your time! Please allow me to ask you one question. Please tell us what made you decide to join Dimon.

Mr. N: The main reason is that I thought it would be interesting. Right now, the lunar exploration industry by private companies is about to begin. I thought that maybe once in my life I would have the opportunity to be involved in the launch of some kind of new industry. I decided to participate.

I want to trigger the evolution of mankind through lunar exploration

Please let us know if there are any events or programs for startups that have benefited in the past.

Two years ago, I participated in a pitch competition held in Kawasaki, where I received seven prizes. That was the first time I got a good feeling, and the direction of the wind changed. Since many of the judges for the pitch competition were from financial backgrounds, winning an award at the pitch led to a certain amount of credibility, and the number of referrals increased rapidly after that.

Until then, I had entered another business contest, but it was a complete failure. Even though it was a lunar exploration, it didn't sound like a business at all, so there weren't even a single question or visit to our booth. After all, I felt that the evaluation will change if the people and places that watch it change, so I once again felt the importance of tenaciously taking on challenges such as the pitch.

The space industry is expected to grow further in the future. Please tell us what you think is the key to industrial growth.

I agree. I think there are two things from the perspective of space ventures. The first is to have a clear image of the future you are drawing. Even when I listen to presentations and pitches about new space businesses, I feel that there are many businesses that are talking about getting rich quickly by doing business first rather than talking about the future. In that case, I think it would be better to go to a major company that is already developing a space business. If we are to take on the challenge of a space venture, I think it is important to have a firm vision of the future that we envision.

The business model is also important. Space business requires a lot of capital to start up. However, I feel that it is not a good idea to go too far with a business plan that assumes that a large amount of risk money will be invested before it becomes profitable. First of all, it is also important to create a business that earns itself, even if it is 10,000 yen.

Finally, Mr. Nakajima, please tell us about the world you want to realize through Daimon's business.

Ultimately, I want to be a catalyst for human evolution. Lunar exploration is not the purpose, but the beginning of a new evolution of mankind from there. It is important what to do from there and what kind of human history to begin.

To talk a little more about the near future, we are planning to bring 100 lunar rovers first. It is a world view where more than 10 million people can remotely control the rover on the moon from the earth. It is possible to experience the experience of operating an avatar robot on the moon, as if you had transferred to YAOKI. The number of people who can go in person is limited, but the time will come when you can simulate a trip to the moon through YAOKI. When that happens, people's consciousness will go not only to the earth but also to the moon. As you spend more and more time with your consciousness on the moon, you will be able to live in a state where, in a sense, your existence exists somewhere in the universe other than the earth. Three years from now, maybe 10 years from now, but I think that the ratio of shifting to space will gradually increase, and I will be able to reach a state where most of my consciousness is in space. It is a step for the evolution of life on earth, represented by human beings. Beyond that, I believe that we can continue to advance the evolution of mankind, such as expanding to the galaxy.

Thank you!

Editor's comments

Through the interview, I could see the weight of Mr. Nakajima's words, which came out precisely because he had been developing the lunar rover single-handedly for a long time.

The day when the lunar rover "YAOKI" developed by Daimon will actually go to the moon is coming soon. As Japan's first lunar rover, the day when YAOKI will attract the attention of the world is just around the corner.