Kirobo put through its paces on ISS

Humanoid robot has autonomous 'conversation' with astronaut Wakata


The first humanoid robot in space with speech capability made small talk with astronaut Koichi Wakata and said it had no problem with zero-gravity on the International Space Station.

Footage released by the its developers Friday showed Kirobo performing its first mission on the station, speaking in Japanese with Wakata as part of an experiment testing the robot’s autonomous conversation functions.

Wakata says he’s glad to meet Kirobo and asks the robotic companion how it feels about being in a zero-gravity environment. “I’m used to it now, no problem at all,” Kirobo quips.

The robot is programmed to process questions and select words from its vocabulary to construct an answer, instead of giving pre-programmed responses to specific questions.

Kirobo’s creator, Tomotaka Takahashi, said the autonomous functions meant nobody knew how well the robot would be able to answer Wakata’s questions. Though Kirobo had some awkward pauses and Wakata spoke more slowly than usual at times in their chat earlier this month, Takahashi said conversations smoothed out over time.

“We were able to observe the initial stages of a relationship begin to develop between a human and a robot, and I think that was our biggest success” he said.

Kirobo took off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture this summer aboard a space cargo transporter. Wakata arrived onboard the ISS in November and will assume command of the station in March.

The project is a joint endeavor between ad firm Dentsu, Toyota and Takahashi at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology.