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World's First Talking Robot Headed Toward the International Space Station [VIDEO]

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Aug 06, 2013 10:17 AM EDT
Kirobo
Humanoid communication robot Kirobo talks to Fuminori Kataoka, project general manager in the Product Planning Group of Toyota Motor Corp, during its unveiling in Tokyo June 26, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)

Japanese researchers launched the world's first talking robot into space Sunday aboard a supply mission headed toward the International Space Station (ISS).

Called Kirobo, the machine will offer an opportunity for scientists to perform experiments on social interaction with robots as a way to reduce stress in confined living space, according to those behind the project.

"I hope that through this project, humans and robots will be able to live together through communication with one another," Tomotaka Takahashi, a research professor with Tokyo University and one of the participants in the project, told the Wall Street Journal.

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Takahashi explained that while the Japanese are unique in their affinity with robots -- likely the result of growing up with manga stories about them -- he hopes that Kirobo's time in space will help widen that feeling of possible kinship to other nations.

Weighing just over 2 pounds and capable of a wide range of motion, the little robot will accompany Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut set to arrive at the orbiting lab later this year, both as a social companion as well as fulfill responsibilities such as relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut.

Because the two have already met, Kirobo's makers explained to the AFP that the robot will be able to recognize Wakata's face once they reunite up aboard the ISS.

Though not headed to space, Kirobo's "sister," Mirata, is a feat as well, according to those behind the project. As the "smart" one of the two, Mirata is more adept at collecting and remembering information and "growing" as a result of the process.

Kirobo, on the other hand, is programmed to respond to questions, listen attentively and greet individuals via the same recognition that will enable it to remember Wakata once the two meet again.

"Russia was the first to go to outer space, the U.S. was the first to go the Moon; we want Japan to be the first to send a robot-astronaut to space that can communicate with humans," Yorichika Nishijima, the Kirobo project manager, told media outlets.

The venture is the result of collaboration from the advertising and PR company Dentsu, the Research Center for Advanced Science Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Toyota Motor Corp.

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