Cute Robot Gets Chatty on the Space Station: Video

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In an orbital first, a robot has held its own in a conversation with an astronaut.

Launched to space on Aug. 3 on a Japanese H-2B rocket, the cute little robot in the center of an experiment into human-robot relations became a sensation. But after five months in space, the pint-sized Kirobo has only just been allowed to speak.

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In a cool video released by the Japanese space agency (JAXA), an entire conversational experiment on Dec. 6 was captured between JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and Kirobo. Apart from a few uncomfortable silences, it seems Kirobo’s autonomous conversation functions performed admirably.

When Wakata said that he was looking forward to meeting Kirobo, the small robot replied: “I really wanted to meet you, too.” When he inquired about how Kirobo got into space, it replied: “On the Kounotori from Tanegashima Space Center.” But so there wasn’t any confusion, after Wakata reaffirmed his question that the little robot had traveled on board the Kounotori (the Japanese-built robotic cargo spaceship H-II Transfer Vehicle), Kirobo clarified: “Not the bird, of course! A rocket.” Kounotori means “white stork” in Japanese.

Kirobo (left) and Koichi Wakata hang out.
JAXA/NASA

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Kirobo’s creator Tomotaka Takahashi told the Associated Press that Wakata would have had no idea what Kirobo would have answered to his questions as the robot assembles its answers from it’s own vocabulary. Through continuing these conversations, Kirobo will also become more sophisticated at human-robot interactions.

“Through layers of communication, we were able to observe the initial stages of a relationship begin to develop between a human and a robot, and I think that was our biggest success,” said Takahashi.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Kirobo and Wakata develops. Wakata arrived at the space station in November and is set to take command in March, the first time a Japanese astronaut will command the ISS. So it looks like Wakata’s new robotic buddy will be second in command until the astronaut returns to Earth in May of next year. Kirobo will return late 2014.

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