Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Zero-G 'no problem' for space robot

Kirobo, the first humanoid robot in space (AP)

The first humanoid robot in space has made small talk with a Japanese astronaut and said it had no problem with zero-gravity on the International Space Station.

Footage released by the robot's developers showed Kirobo performing its first mission on the station, talking in Japanese with Koichi Wakata as part of an experiment testing Kirobo's autonomous conversation functions.

In the film, Mr Wakata says he is glad to meet Kirobo, and asks his robotic companion how it feels about being in a zero-gravity environment.

"I'm used to it now, no problem at all," Kirobo quips.

Kirobo is programmed to process questions and select words from its vocabulary to construct an answer, instead of giving pre-programmed responses to specific questions.

The creator of the robot, Tomotaka Takahashi, said the autonomous functions meant no one knew how well Kirobo would be able to answer Mr Wakata's questions.

Kirobo had some awkward pauses and Mr Wakata spoke more slowly than usual at times in their chat earlier this month, but Mr Takahashi said conversations smoothed out over time.

"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," he said.

Kirobo took off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre for the International Space Station this summer aboard a space cargo transporter. Mr Wakata arrived in November and will assume command of the station in March.

The project is a joint endeavour between advertising company Dentsu, car maker Toyota, and Mr Takahashi at the University of Tokyo's Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology.

Experiments with Kirobo will continue until it returns to Earth at the end of next year.

In the meantime, Kirobo says he wants to ask Santa for a toy rocket this Christmas.

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