Sat, Dec 21, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Robot, astronaut start conversation in space

AFP, TOKYO

Humanoid communication robot Kirobo, right, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata exchange messages in the first communication session between a robot and a human being in space at the International Space Station, in a photograph released by the Kibo Robot Project on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

The world’s first robot astronaut has begun chatting to the Japanese commander of the International Space Station, in what was being billed as the first conversation of its kind.

Kirobo, a pint-sized android equipped with artificial intelligence and programmed to respond appropriately to humans, even put a marker down for Christmas, telling Koichi Wakata he expected a visit from a certain man bearing gifts.

“Santa Claus will come to space,” Kirobo, wearing a Santa hat, told Wakata as they drifted in zero gravity hundreds of kilometers above the Earth.

“What will you ask for from Santa Claus, Kirobo?” the Japanese astronaut said.

“I want a toy rocket... let’s ask Santa Claus,” it said.

The unscripted conversation, in Japanese, was held on Dec. 6, with the footage unveiled yesterday. It is part of a longer-term project to see how a robot can act as a companion for isolated people, particularly to see if it can develop conversational skills.

The wide-eyed and bootie-wearing Kirobo — roughly the size of a chihuahua — left Earth on a cargo-carrying rocket and reached the space station on Aug. 10.

Wakata, along with Mikhail Tyurin of Russia and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, joined him on the space station last month.

“We’ve had some trouble before having the robot carry on the conversation smoothly,” developer Tomotaka Takahashi said.

“When people develop a relationship, it is an accumulation of small bits of communication. Small things make it work or not work,” he said. “We’ve learned important tips to develop a robot that can communicate with people more.”

Kirobo and his interlocutor managed several minutes of spontaneous conversation aboard the space station, which included the robot giving very general opinions.

“How was it when the rocket launched?” Wakata asked the robot.

“It was exciting!” Kirobo said.

Kirobo and a twin android, Mirata, which stayed on Earth, were created jointly by advertising firm Dentsu, the University of Tokyo, robot developer Robo Garage and Toyota.

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