One giant leap for Kirobo, Japan’s newest ‘astronaut’

“One small step for me, a giant leap for robots,” were the first words Kirobo, Japan’s first talking robot, told reporters before the pint-sized humanoid was blasted off into space on Monday.

Kirobo (not pictured above!) was launched into space from Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture on board an unmanned Kounotori 4 Transfer Vehicle (HTV4) alongside 5 tons of supplies and machinery bound for the International Space Station.

Kirobo, from the Japanese word for hope, “kibo,” and the word “robot”, is due to arrive at the ISS on August 9.

With an appearance inspired by legendary anime character AstroBoy, the 13.4-inch-tall robot was created as part of a groundbreaking project that will study how machines can provide emotional support for “people isolated over long periods”.

Kirobo will serve as companion to astronaut Kochi Wakata who will begin his mission in November.

The robot is equipped with voice-recognition technology, natural-language processing and facial recognition to speak with astronauts in space and researchers back on Earth, according to its developers.

“Kirobo will remember Wakata’s face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space,” Robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi said.

Kirobo will communicate with another robot on Earth, Mirata, which will monitor any problem its twin may experience in space.

Takahashi, of the University of Tokyo, said sending a robot into space could change the landscape of communications.

“I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between person and machine, or person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people,” he told The Associated Press.

by Maesie Bertumen

Image: Pasukaru/Flickr

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