Astronauts and robot sidekicks go together like Dave and HAL 9000, like Will Robinson and B9, like Doctor Who and K9. Soon, that illustrious list will grow longer with the addition of a Japanese astronaut and Kirobo, a conversational robot companion.
Kirobo looks like a cross between Astro Boy and a Power Ranger, all rendered in miniature. Since the bot's job is to be a companion, not a worker. It's very compact in size, just 13 inches tall and a little over 2 pounds in weight.
Kirobo has been in development for some time as a joint project between Toyota, the University of Tokyo, and Robo Garage. It's the space-worthy version of its Earth-bound counterpart, Mirata. Kirobo has gone through design phases and testing to be sure it will work in zero gravity and survive the rigors of space travel.
The small humanoid robot is scheduled to launch for the International Space Station on August 4. It will then have to wait for Commander Koichi Wakata to arrive in November or December in order to participate in the first human-robot conversation in space.
Kirobo speaks Japanese and is equipped with voice recognition, natural language processing, a camera for recording, and a facial recognition camera.
The robot's creators hope conversational robots will be able to combat what they see as a growing sense of isolation and lack of communication among people.
Apparently, Kirobo itself is onboard with this mission. Asked at a press conference what its dream was, according to Phys.org, it responded with, "I want to create a future where humans and robots can live together and get along." That should help rule out any HAL 9000-style antics.