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Japanese robot: ISS mission one ‘big stride’ for androids

AFP-JIJI

A talking robot that will accompany a Japanese astronaut in space this summer says the cosmic tour will be one giant leap for androids everywhere.

In a scene straight out of “Star Wars,” the pint-sized Kirobo fielded questions from curious journalists who asked what it was going to do in space.

“This may look (like) a small step, but it will be a big stride as a robot,” the black-and-white humanoid robot outfitted with bright red boots told a press briefing in Tokyo.

Its creators said they were sending the robot into space to act as a chatting partner for astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is set to arrive at the International Space Station later this year.

Kirobo is to arrive in August in what its handlers say is the first visit for a robot at the space station. Wakata will also be the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

“Kirobo will remember Mr. Wakata’s face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space,” said creator Tomotaka Takahashi. “He will be the first robot to visit the space station.”

Standing at just 34 cm tall and weighing about 1 kg, the little android is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Wakata.

The robot, which has a wide range of physical motions, will also play a role in some missions, relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut, Takahashi said.

Back on Earth, twin robot Mirata will be on the lookout for any problems encountered by its electronic counterpart.

Takahashi, who said he was inspired by legendary animation character Astro Boy, said he now 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 said, referring to efforts at making robots even more humanlike.

The project’s website can be found at: kibo-robo.jp