Japan To Send Robot On Mission To International Space Station
June 26, 2013

Japan To Send Robot On Mission To International Space Station

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Japan's pint-sized KIROBO will be going on a new mission this summer, making its way towards the International Space Station (ISS).

KIROBO is a humanoid robot that will be accompanying Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on a flight to the space station in August. The robot will be able to remember Wakata's face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space.

The 13-inch tall robot is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Koichi. It will also be playing a role in some missions, relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut.

Twin robot MIRATA will be stationed on Earth looking for any problems encountered by its electronic counterpart. KIROBO creator Tomotaka Takahashi said he eventually wants to create a miniaturized robot that owners could carry in their pocket like a smartphone.

"By bringing a robot into space, the development of a symbiotic robot is expected to move along much faster," Takahashi told AFP.

KIROBO is not a robot that will be able to help a human perform a task, but instead is able to learn through the conversation it has. Although it may be the first robot to communicate with a human on the ISS, it is definitely not the first robot aboard the orbiting laboratory. In 2011, astronauts aboard the ISS unpacked Robonaut2, which was the first humanoid robot ever launched into space.

Robonaut2 arrived on the space station aboard one of the last space shuttle missions. The humanoid isn't onboard the space station as a marketing tool either, but it actually has been designed to perform tasks.

NASA hopes Robonaut2 will be a gateway that will one day allow robots to venture outside the space station and lend a helping hand to astronauts making repairs to the exterior of the space station.

In February of last year, Robonaut2 and astronaut Daniel Burbank performed the first human and humanoid handshake in space, symbolizing the start of a new era of humanoids in space.

Robonaut2 will eventually be used to perform mundane maintenance and service tasks on the ISS. The humanoid is capable of taking on software and hardware upgrades while aboard the orbiting laboratory.

“GM engineers are also studying how the technology embedded within R2 can be put to use within manufacturing facilities to help create a safer working environment,” said Marty Linn, principal robotics engineer. “The dexterity and endurance of R2 can be used alongside people to help reduce repetitive stress injuries and the R2 sensing capabilities can be used in collision avoidance systems.”