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Talking Robot to Keep Japanese Astronaut Company at the ISS

The conversationalist robot Kirobo has just been launched into the abyss, and is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station by August 9

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A Japanese company is planning to send some robotic personality to the International Space Station, in the hopes of providing at least one astronaut with some much-needed entertainment. Here’s the Guardian reporting on Kirobo, the “world’s first humanoid talking space robot”:

Its name comes from the Japanese words for hope and robot, and its task is momentous for a kilo of superbly engineered plastic and a bundle of plug leads: nothing less than to supply emotional warmth and companionship.

The robot has just been launched into the abyss and is scheduled to arrive at the ISS this Friday. It has been programmed to visually recognize the face of Koichi Wakata, an astronaut who will join the ISS crew in November.

Although Kirobo stands just 34cm tall, weighs slightly less than a kilo, and is modelled on a beloved Japanese cartoon figure, Astro Boy, it would be quite wrong, indeed grossly offensive, to describe it as a toy. It will also relay messages and commands from the control centre to Wakata, and keep records of all their conversations.

Though having your private conversations with a robot recorded seems a bit invasive, Kirobo’s creator, Tomotaka Takahashi, says the robot will provide “a kind of ‘listening’ conversation.” Rather than just answer specific questions with specific answers, Kirobo strives to actively participate in conversations.

Plus, what could go wrong? Kirobo, the Guardian says, “has an Earth-bound twin called Mirata which can monitor any problems in space” and, at a press conference, he told reporters that he “hoped to create a future where humans and robots live together and get along.”  Which should be reassuring, but…even the homicidal HAL 9000 had a double on earth. And he once told a reporter: “I enjoy working with people.” As the Guardian puts it: “Generally robots in space have had a bad press.” Maybe Kirobo can turn that their reputation around.

More from Smithsonian.com:

My Robot Helper of Tomorrow 
Robots Get the Human Touch

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