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August 5, 2013

Japan launches talking robot into Space

'Kirobo' to accompany ISS Commander.

By Ben Sullivan

The world’s first talking robot was sent into Space on August 4 to serve as a companion to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who begins his mission in Novemeber.

The robot, named Kirobo (which is an amalgamation of Japanese words for ‘hope’ and ‘robot’), blasted off from the island of Tanegashima on an unmanned transport vehicle headed for the International Space Station. The Konotori, lifted by a H-2B rocket, also carried supplies for the ISS and also the first ever Arduino-based satellite.

Measuring only a tiny 13 inches tall, Kirobo will arrive at the ISS on the August 9, and is part of a study to see how machines can lend emotional support to humans isolated over long periods.

It has a wide range of physical motion, with a design inspired by infamous animation character Astro Boy.

Kirobo has been programmed to communicate in Japanese with Astronaut Koichi Wakata, and will not only keep records of conversations but also relay control room messages to the upcoming Commander of the ISS.

"Kirobo will remember Mr Wakata’s face so it can recognise him when they reunite up in Space," the robot’s developer, Tomotaka Takahashi, said.

"I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between a person and machine, or a person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people."

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Takahashi added that the biggest challenge was to make the android compatible with space. Dozens of tests were carried out over nine months to ensure Kirobo’s reliability.

"When people think of robots in outer space, they tend to seek ones that do things physically," he said. "But I think there is something that could come from focusing on humanoid robots that focus on communication."

The endeavour is a joint project between Takahashi, car producer Toyota and advertising company Dentsu.

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