To those who think the space race is over is set to be proven wrong by Japan very, very soon. Kirobo, a small humanoid robot that is capable of talking and conversing with humans in space and on the ground, is slated to be the world’s first talking robot in space when it launches to the International Space Station (ISS) on August 4. Once in the ISS, Kirobo, whose name comes from the Japanese word “kibo”, meaning hope, and the word “robot”, will be taking part in the first robot-to-human conversation in space.
According to Yorichika Nishijima, Kirobo Project Manager,
“Russia was the first to go outer space, the U.S. was the first to go to the moon, we want Japan to be the first to send a robot-astronaut to space that can communicate with humans.”
Kirobo, which measures a mere 13.4 inches, is equipped with voice-recognition technology, natural language processing, facial and emotion recognition and a camera that was designed in partnership with Toyota. When asked what is its dream, Kirobo replies,
“I want to help create a world where humans and robots can live together.”
A second communications robot, named Mirata, was also developed alongside Kirobo and will remain on earth during the duration of the latter’s space mission. Almost identical in function with Kirobo, Mirata will enable engineers and scientists on earth to troubleshoot any problems that should arise with Kirobo while in space.
Although scheduled to speak in space for the very first time in August, the much anticipated first conversation between machine and humans will take place around November or December, when veteran Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata arrives at the space station. Kirobo is expected to return to earth in December of next year.
On August 4, Kirobo will be launched aboard an unmanned H2 Transfer Vehicle-4 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Southern Japan. Aside from Toyota Motor Corporation, Kirobo was jointly developed by the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Dentsu Inc.