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article imageJapan sends talking robot astronaut to ISS

By Jordan Howell     Aug 3, 2013 in Science
Japan is preparing to launch its unmanned HTV-4 cargo ship toward the International Space Station this afternoon with a special guest on board: Kirobo the talking robot astronaut.
Kirobo is one of two robots built by the Kibo Robot Project, a collaborative effort among several high profile Japanese companies who share the goal of using robots to provide a new form of friendship and interaction for the human race.
Kibo also built a second robot named Mirata, which will remain on Earth to assist engineers should something go wrong with Kirobo during the mission.
“Kirobo” is a combination of the Japanese “kiro,” or hope, and “robo” a common abbreviation for robot.
Kirobo stands 13.4 inches tall, weighs about 2 pounds, and according to CBC was designed to use Toyota’s advanced voice-recognition software to chitchat in Japanese with Commander Koichi Wakata, who is slated to become the first Japanese commander of the ISS when he arrives in November.
Kirobo is also fitted with a camera and is capable of recognizing human faces.
In addition to Toyota, the University of Tokyo, Dentsu, Robo Garage, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency all collaborated to form the Kibo Robot Project and to build Kirobo. The University of Tokyo and Robo Garage build the robot hardware while Dentsu created conversation content.
The Kibo Robot Project has put considerable effort into branding Kirobo as a friendly human companion capable of providing conversation and friendship for humans undergoing long or deep space missions.
While the Kibo Robot Project has not officially said their robot is incapable of taking over the ISS and killing its crew, the public should rest assured that Kirobo is not capable of the kind of mischief exacted by talking robot astronauts like HAL 9000. Think of Kirobo more as an R2-D2 or C-3PO.
"I want to help create a world where humans and robots can live together," Kirobo during the Kibo Robot Project's unveiling in late June.
Kirobo will return to Earth in December.
View a gallery of images on the Kibo Project website here.
While Kirobo is certainly stealing the spotlight, the HTV-4 cargo ship will also be delivering an estimated 3.5 tons of equipment, food, and supplies to the ISS.
Watch the space launch live today (Saturday, August 3) at 3:48 p.m. EDT.
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