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Japan sends first talking humanoid robot to space

Robot to be a companion for on board astronaut, communicate with another robot on Earthrn

Japan has launched the world’s first talking humanoid robot “astronaut” toward the International Space Station.

Kirobo — derived from the Japanese words for “hope” and “robot” — was among five tonnes of supplies and machinery on a rocket launched on August 4 from Tanegashima in southwestern Japan, according to Jaxa, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The childlike robot was designed to be a companion for astronaut Koichi Wakata and will communicate with another robot on Earth, according to developers. Wakata is expected to arrive at the space station in November.

Robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi, of the University of Tokyo, advertiser Dentsu and automaker Toyota Motor Corp worked on the robot.

The challenge was making sure it could move and talk where there was no gravity.

Ahead of the launch, the 34-centimetre tall Kirobo told reporters, “one small step for me, a giant leap for robots.”

Japan boasts the most sophisticated robotics in the world, but because of its strong “manga” culture, it tends to favour cute robots with human-like characteristics and emotional appeal, a use of technology that has at times drawn criticism for being unproductive.

However, Takahashi says that sending a robot into space could help write a new chapter in the history of communication.

“I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between person and machine, or person and the internet and sometimes even between people.”

Jaxa says the rocket launch was successful, and the separation of a cargo vehicle, carrying the robot to the space station, was confirmed about 15 minutes after lift-off.