August 4 marks a great milestone in robotics and space exploration. Kirobo, a 13.4 inch, talking humanoid robot from Japan, is slated to launch aboard the H2 Transfer Vehicle-4 spacecraft and will be spending much of its time in space inside the International Space Station.
Once aboard the space station, Kirobo will be participating in the first ever robot-to-human conversation in space. According to Kirobo Project Manager Yorichika Nishijima, the goal is for Japan to be the first to send a robot astronaut that can communicate with humans to space. Kirobo’s name comes from combining the word “kibo” or hope in Japanese and the word “robot.” The said moniker were chosen by project officials among the more than 2,452 entries submitted by fans all over the world. Consequently, Japan’s module of the space station is also dubbed the Kibo Laboratory.
Kirobo, which was developed in collaboration with Toyota Motor Corp, the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Dentsu Inc., packs voice recognition technology, natural language processing, facial recognition, a camera, emotion recognition and the ability to speak Japanese. It is scheduled to speak for the first time sometime in August or September, although for the much anticipated first machine to human conversation in space, we would have to wait until veteran astronaut Koichi Wakata arrives at the space station in November. He would serve as Kirobo’s conversation partner, and are expected to converse for the first time in December.
In a press conference, people asked Kirobo what its dream is. Kirobo replies, “”I want to help create a world where humans and robots can live together.” And with the success of this space endeavor, Kirobo’s dream should not be far from reality.
An identical communications robot, dubbed as Mirata, was developed by engineers and scientists of the project. It will remain here on Earth and will help out in troubleshooting any problems that may arise while Kirobo is in space.
Kirobo is expected to return to earth in December of next year.