Japan’s robo-astronaut aboard ISS takes ‘one small step’


A pint-size android has uttered the first robotic words in space, showcasing Japan’s drive to combine cutting-edge technology with cuteness.

The wide-eyed and bootie-wearing Kirobo — roughly the size of a chihuahua — broadcast a message from inside the International Space Station, greeting citizens of Earth and paying cheeky tribute to Neil Armstrong.

“On Aug. 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” Kirobo said in a video that showed the humanoid creation drifting weightlessly on-board the ISS, as it moved its legs in the air.

The images made their global debut Wednesday as part of Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Games during a presentation ahead of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires that will decide the host city.

“Good morning to everyone on Earth. This is Kirobo. I am the world’s first talking robot astronaut. Nice to meet you,” it said in Japanese.

The humanoid was created jointly by advertising firm Dentsu, the University of Tokyo, robot developer Robo Garage and Toyota Motor Corp.

The robot stands just 34 cm tall and weighs about 1 kg.

It left Earth on Aug. 4 on a cargo-carrying rocket that was also delivering supplies to the ISS.

Kirobo is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

The robot is part of a study aimed at seeing how a nonhuman companion can provide emotional support for people isolated over long periods.

  • Paulo Debenest

    As a robot developer based in Japan, I feel a little ashamed to see the amount of exposure a toy like this receives, when there are still so many serious problems that could benefit from the use of robots left behind – the nuclear disaster at Fukushima being only one of them.

    • Skip Batz

      Worry not! This robot does not diminish robots designed for more serious purposes in any way.

  • nobuo takamura

    Kirobo is sure to be a humanoid being just like a human being. Words produced by him are sure to help astronauts speak with him or her about everything, trivial or not, because words spoken out, not inner ones, are sure to energize them into satisfactory fatigue, not risky tiresomeness.

    • Mike Wyckoff

      How are the other astronauts going to understand the robot if it only speaks Japanese…

      Robot in space = FAIL

      • Sakura Suzuki

        It was probably meant for Japanese austronausts in the first place but as it is just a robot programmed by different programs you could probably fill in an English language program into it later if you want it to talk in English. This is just how I think they are gonna solve the problem you propsed,

      • Mike Wyckoff

        So, English is no longer a requirement to become an astronaut? So much for English as the international language. I might as well quit teaching.

      • Sakura Suzuki

        What I meant was that as this robot is made by Japanese inventors for Japanese astonausts, of course this robo will speak in Japanese. But as it is wriiten above, this is just part of a research, so I suppose that if the result of this research is positive, then they will make a robo which is able to speak English.

      • Mike Wyckoff

        Just a silly waste of money. They don’t need it in space, just give it to an old couple in rural Hokkaido…you’ll get more feedback for less money with the same result…

      • Sakura Suzuki

        Didn’t you read the article? It says: “The robot is part of a study aimed at seeing how a nonhuman companion can provide emotional support for people isolated over long period”, an old couple in rural Hokkaido won’t be able to be research material for a study like this. The whole point of this robo is for it to be of emotional support for the astonaut! People who are living isolated, unsosial life for a long period may develop mental problems such as depression etc. and that is probably why they want to make such a robo = so that it can help astronausts so they won’t get problems like depression.

      • Mike Wyckoff

        Yes, I read the article through twice and I still thing there are much cheaper ways to spend money and time in Japan. Lets address issues on this planet, more specifically this country before we spend millions to help a handful of astronauts who by the way, have other means to communicate. If you want to stop depression, look at the 30,000 depressed people who commit suicide every year! Make a robot for them!

      • Sakura Suzuki

        Ok, that is true. But I still think that you should work in more varied fields at the same time. But that is just my personal opinion.

    • Skip Batz

      It’s important for possible future longterm missions to create a survivable environment. Social outlets are IMPORTANT, and psychological survival may end up being as difficult to engineer as the biological.