In what may not be the most historic event in space exploration, but may be the cutest, Toyota has announced that the Kibo Robot Project’s “robot astronaut” Kirobo will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) on August 4. Unlike its human counterparts, the 13.4-in (34 cm) tall humanoid robot will travel aboard an unmanned Kounotori 4 cargo spacecraft launched from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Tanegashima Space Center atop a H-IIB rocket. Once at the ISS, Kirobo is scheduled to conduct the first-ever robot-human conversation experiments in December.
Weighing only a kilogram (2.2 lb), Kirobo is one of two humanoid verbal-communication robots built by the Kibo Robot Project; a partnership that includes Dentsu, the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage, and Toyota. It’s based on the commercial Robi kit robot with modifications for operating safely in zero gravity, face recognition and, according to its developers, the ability to recognize emotions. Toyota provided the speech-recognition software while Dentsu programmed the robot’s speech content as well as being responsible for overall project management.
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Kirobo won’t have much to do on board the ISS at first, aside from uttering its first words in space, because it will be awaiting the arrival of Commander Koichi Wakata in November or December. Until then, conversation with Kirobo will be somewhat limited because it only speaks Japanese.
Formal conversation tests are slated to begin in December. Meanwhile the backup ”ground crew" robot Mirata will be used to verify the experiments and help troubleshoot any problems that Kirobo may encounter, as well as fulfilling public relations duties. The development partners hope that lessons learned in the experiment will help in improving their own robots. . Kirobo is expected to return to Earth in December 2014.
The video below (in Japanese) shows Kirobo going through its paces.