Japanese Robot 'Friend' Kirobo Converses With Astronaut On The International Space Station

By Ben Wolford on December 20, 2013 10:37 AM EST

Kirobo
The Japanese are testing a companion robot that could one day keep isolated people company.

In the new movie Her, a recently divorced character played by Joaquin Phoenix recovers from his funk by falling in love with a woman named Samantha. Except Samantha isn't a typical rebound girl; she's a smartphone. The voice is intuitive and capable of learning and responding precisely as any human might. (It helps a little that the voice is Scarlett Johansson's, not Siri's).

The idea isn't so far-fetched. Right now, Japanese scientists are testing a robot called Kirobo whose only purpose is companionship for lonely people. On Thursday, they released footage of the first conversation between Kirobo and a Japanese astronaut on the International Space Station. In the video (English subtitles here), the 13-inch humanoid robot, which looks like some kind of Japanese cartoon, is wearing a tiny Santa hat and talking to an astronaut, Capt. Koichi Wakata.

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Here's a transcript of parts of the conversation:

Wakata: I had been looking forward to seeing you Kirobo.

Kirobo: I had been wanting to see you for a long time.

Wakata: Kirobo, have you gotten used to zero gravity?

Kirobo: I'm used to it now. No problem at all.

Wakata: Since there's no gravity, you can't help but floating, right?

Kirobo: That's right. We're floating.

Wakata: Do you have anything you want to ask Santa for Christmas?

Kirobo: A toy rocket.

Wakata: Then let's ask Santa.

It's definitely in beta. But the idea is that one day, the robot will be so advanced that it can act as a seamless substitute for the human interaction we all crave but that some people are too isolated to receive. On Kirobo's website, the team dramatically explains its mission: "The Kibo robot has a special mission: to help solve the problems brought about by a society that has become more individualized and less communicative. Nowadays, more and more people are living alone. It's not just the elderly — with today's changing lifestyles, it's people of all ages. With a new style of robot-human interface, perhaps a way to solve this problem could be found."

The very depressing, somewhat creepy English translation goes on in the vein of a horrifying dystopian novel: "In the summer of 2013, a robotic astronaut will fly away. Hope of the Japanese technology. Hope for tomorrow's children. It carries hope on its small shoulders. Hope for the future of humans living together with robots."

In August, the robotic astronaut did fly away, along with other supplies that the Japanese space agency, JAXA, sent to the International Space Station. "Kirobo will remember Mr. Wakata's face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space," its creator Tomotaka Takahashi told AFP earlier this year. "He will be the first robot to visit the space station."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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