Ever since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, mixing space and robots has not been that good of an idea. However, the Japanese astronaut aboard the International Space Station seems to think otherwise.
The development of robots apparently follows two different approaches that sometimes intertwine. Some scientists are looking to build functional robots that someday will take over our tasks, while others are far more interested in the social factor. Making robots who are able to express themselves through words or even body language, is very important in the context of artificial intelligence. Mix the two aspects and you have something a la Terminator! I’m kidding, of course. Kirobo, as this 13.4 inch-tall humanoid robot is called, will be launched into space next month. Upon getting on board of the International Space Station, Kirobo will become Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakada’s conversation partner.
The scientists who developed Kirobo admit that the modern society suffers from a lack of communication. People have become individualistic, think only about themselves and fail to see when someone nearby requires assistance. Maybe robots can solve this problem if humans no longer can. Getting a robot to talk to is apparently one of the ideal solutions.
Kirobo’s name is a word play that brings together the word robot and kibo, the Japanese word for hope. If I remember correctly, the word robot has a Czech origin, so this juxtaposition makes two different worlds collide. Well, not that difference, since Japan is a pioneer in robotics and anything related to this field.
One of the most interesting features of Kirobo is that it can record conversations and learn (I assume new words) from them, so that communication gets improved in time. This cute little robot can only speak Japanese, but implementing new languages into it should not be that difficult. On top of that, it can recognize facial expressions, so it could socialize and empathize well.
The Kibo Robot Project even has a website that you can visit here. Additional details are provided there, along with the story of how Kirobo came to be.
I would much prefer to be surrounded by talking robots, instead of some of the people that I have the misfortune to share the same planet with, but that’s a different story. I hope that Kirobo will behave in its home away from home and that his future upgrades will spare us.