We are enthralled by SF novels and the world of movies where robots take active parts in various scenarios; working and talking like humans. We can even say that it is one of mankind's dreams to perfect a robot that can think for itself, act like a human, and express its feelings. There are various robotic studies underway in Japan, and their aim is a future where this kind of high-performing robot can live together with human beings.
Kirobo arrives on the International Space Station (ISS) © KIBO ROBOT PROJECT
Imagine you are an astronaut, on a mission to a distant planet, spending long periods of time all alone in a spacecraft. Who will you have to talk to? Maybe a robot with advanced artificial intelligence.
In August 2013 Kirobo, the robot astronaut developed by Tokyo University and Japanese automobile manufacturers etc., arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) which orbits the earth. Although of small stature, around 34 centimeters tall and weighing around 1kilo, Kirobo is a humanoid robot created for the purpose of conversational experiments in space between a human and a robot.
Kirobo remembers the face of Koichi Wakata, an astronaut who arrives on the ISS sometime later, and when he sees him, he greets him with "Hello Mr. Wakata!" When his partner speaks, Kirobo chimes in with realistic gestures, saying "Umm!" or "Oh really?" If his partner says things like "This is difficult!", or "I don't know what I'm going to do!" Kirobo guesses his feelings by using artificial intelligence and offers words of comfort like "That's tough, isn't it?"
Kirobo is activated with no hitches and floats around inside ISS. His first words in space were “August 21st 2013 – Robots’ first step towards our hopes for the future.”
© KIBO ROBOT PROJECT
Before going into space, a conversation between Kirobo and his developer was made public. Kirobo was praised as "the first robot astronaut that it is possible to converse with." To which he replied "That’s one small step for me, one giant leap for robot-kind," making the room erupt as he quoted the words of American astronaut Captain Neil Armstrong; the first human to land on the surface of the moon. It seems Kirobo has a sense of humor....
Kirobo talks to the robot developer
© KIBO ROBOT PROJECT
Checking out movement in zero gravity on board a small jet © KIBO ROBOT PROJECT
Kirobo is forecast to spend 1.5 years in space where he will serve to explain instructions and experimental work procedures from earth. The Kirobo experiment is drawing attention as a "giant leap" to enabling better communication between humans and robots.