25September2018

First robot to talk in space: Kirobo

Summary

  • Japan’s Kirobo talking robot says its first words in space: ‘One small step’
  • Japan’s Kirobo has become the first robot to speak in outer space, showcasing the country’s drive to combine technology with cuteness.
  • ‘One small step towards a brighter future for all’: Kirobo goes down in history by becoming the first robot to talk in space
  • The humanoid robot was created by Tomotaka Takahashi.
  • Talking robot Kirobo is named after ‘kibo’ which means hope in Japanese
  • It is on an 18-month mission aboard the International Space Station
  • After introducing itself via video link, Kirobo sent photos back to Earth
  • It will be used to record messages from commander Koichi Wakata
  • Kirobo was developed in Japan and has facial recognition abilities. Kirobo was designed to communicate in Japanese as well as take photos.

The designers of the android – which has been developed in Japan to serve as a companion during extended explorations of space in the future – have released pictures of Kirobo floating in the International Space Station.

“On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” the diminutive android said.

Kirobo is shown on board the space station looking down to Earth. Before the end of the year, astronaut Koichi Wakata is due to become the first Japanese commander of the space station. Kirobo has been programmed to recognise Wakata's face and will be able to identify him when the astronaut begins his expedition

Kirobo is shown on board the space station looking down to Earth. Before the end of the year, astronaut Koichi Wakata is due to become the first Japanese commander of the space station. Kirobo has been programmed to recognise Wakata’s face and will be able to identify him when the astronaut begins his expedition

The world’s first talking robot in space has uttered its first words in orbit, echoing famed moonwalking astronaut Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” line, but this time for all robotkind. It was first unveiled at a press conference in June.

Project manager, Yorichika Nishijima said: ‘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.’

It is a collaboration between advertising and PR company Dentsu, the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Toyota Motor Corporation.

The small robot astronaut Kirobo, which was built by Japanese scientists, spoke its first orbital words while floating aboard the International Space Station. The robot launched to the space station in August aboard an unmanned Japanese cargo ship to help scientists study robot-human interaction.

A newly released video of Kirobo talking in space shows the robot’s mouth light up as it delivers its first message, in Japanese, on Aug. 21. [Photos: Meet Kirobo, Japan’s 1st Talking Space Robot]

“On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” Kirobo says, according to a translation from one of the project’s partners, the public relations company Dentsu Inc.

Kirobo, which takes its name from the Japanese words for “hope” and “robot,” was built by a consortium of companies, including Toyota Motor Corp., Dentsu Corp. and Robo Garage Co., working with scientists from the University of Tokyo’s Centre for Advanced Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Kirobo was launched into space on board the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 4 from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre on 4 August. It spent six days in orbit before crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) used a robotic arm to remove it from the launch capsule.

Kirobo only speaks Japanese and is designed to help researchers explore the possibilities of coexistence with robots during long space voyages of the future. Its mission, called the Kibo Robot Project, was developed by the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, the Toyota Motor Corp., Robo Garage and Dentsu Inc.

Measuring just 13 inches (34 centimeters) tall and weighing in at 2.2lbs,, the robot’s name is a mash-up of the word “robot” and Kibo, which means “hope” in Japanese and is the name of Japan’s research laboratory module on the space station.

Kirobo is awaiting the arrival of Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is set to become the first Japanese commander of the space station when he gets there in November or December this year. Kirobo will be able to recognise Wakata’s facial features and is designed to communicate in Japanese and take photos.

Wakata will also become the first person to converse with a robot in space. His historic chat with Kirobo is expected to take place in December.  Kirobo has been programmed to recognise Wakata’s face and will be able to identify him when the astronaut begins his expedition.

It will then keep records of conversations with Wakata as well as be used on missions to relay messages from the control room to the commander. Mirata will act as a go-between and can also check for problems in the machine’s electronic components.

Takahashi said: ‘By bringing a robot into space, the development of a symbiotic robot is expected to move along much faster.’

After Wakata has completed his six-month stay aboard the ISS, the robot will stay behind to send messages to schools in Japan and around the world. It will be able to post messages on Twitter and other social media sites, take pictures within the Kibo research module on the ISS, Japan’s contribution to the international project, and of the Earth from outer space.

The robot’s technological capabilities include voice-recognition, natural language processing, facial recognition, a camera and emotion recognition.
A second android has been developed to serve as a backup and to demonstrate the device’s capabilities to audiences on Earth. Kirobo also has a near-identical twin named Mirata on Earth, designed to allow engineers on the ground to troubleshoot any malfunctions that may arise with Kirobo in space.

Mirata is a similar make and model counterpart robot for Kirobo, based at Tokyo’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology.

In a statement, the organisers said the robot will be designed to “help solve social problems through communication”.

“The main objective is that humans can talk to it and feel some sort of closeness to it,” the developers said. “That is why we decided to give it a humanoid shape.”

Kirobo is expected to return to Earth in December 2014.

Kirobo’s message to Mirata

Kirobo said: ‘On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step towards a brighter future for all. Good morning to everyone on Earth. This is Kirobo. I am the world’s first talking robot astronaut. Nice to meet you.’

Kirobo continued that a backup crew member called Mirata was providing support on Earth before adding: ‘Mirata, please stand by, I will now send a photo to Earth.’

See more at: One Small Step for a Robot in Space

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