space robot aboard the iss
September 6, 2013

Japanese Space Robot Jabbers Away Aboard ISS

[ Watch the Video: Japanese Robot Begins Duty On The Space Station ]

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

A tiny Japanese robot will spend the next year and a half on the International Space Station (ISS) keeping lonely astronauts company and entertaining children stationed on Earth.

The pint-sized android named Kirobo has built-in voice recognition software designed by Toyota and will keep records of the conversations it has with astronaut Koichi Wakata. Another robot named Mirata is running things down on Earth and can send commands to Kirobo as well as receive information such as pictures from the robot.

Wakata hasn’t arrived at the space station just yet, but is expected to arrive in late November or early December. Once he does, he and Kirobo will be the first human-android pair to carry on conversations in outer space, a futuristic notion first popularized in science fiction film classics like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Alien."

Kirobo actually arrived at the ISS a few weeks ago on August 21, but the video of its arrival was only recently posted online.

"On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all," said Kirobo in its high-pitched whine. Its voice is almost drowned out by the mechanical grind and whir of its arms and legs as it gesticulates nonsensically while it speaks.

“Good morning to everyone on Earth,” it later says, “Nice to meet you.”

Kirobo stands a mere 13-inches tall and has been designed to provide company to astronauts as well as entertain Earth-bound humans. It can also recognize the astronauts' faces and understand who it is talking to.

When not carrying on small talk with its human neighbors, it will shoot and send pictures of the ISS and the blank space outside to its twin Mirata on Earth as well as to social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Mirata will also make tours through schools to explain  Kirobo's journey in the heavens.

Kirobo is the product of much collaboration between numerous organizations and individuals. The Japanese Aeropspace Exploration Agency (JAXA) approved and cooperated with the project with help from the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, Robo Garage, Toyota Motor Company and creator Tomotaka Takahashi. The experiments carried out by Kirobo will be done in the Japanese Experiment Module of the ISS called “Kibo,” which means “hope.”

The team which helped build and develop Kirobo said they want the robot 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," said the developers in a statement. "That is why we decided to give it a humanoid shape."

In June, Takahashi said he hoped Kirobo could do even more — specifically, quicken the advance of robotics and lead the charge to a future where mini-robots can be carried around in our pockets like smartphones.

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

Though the developers claimed Kirobo would be the first robot in space, another bot cleverly named “Robonaut2” was unpacked on the ISS in 2011.