Editorial Feature

Kirobo Robot Communicates from Space

The moon is our closest natural satellite in the solar system.  Since man first walked on the moon in 1969, there has been a significant amount of research development to redesign spacecrafts that are automated and intuitive enough to communicate information about outer space – KiroboTM has become one such example of the world’s first android robot to speak in outer space.

A group of companies including Toyota Motor Corporation, Dentsu Inc. and Robo Garage Corporation, a dedicated research team at the University of Tokyo’s Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, and a team at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have all helped build KiroboTM.

The team of experts behind this project waved goodbye to KiroboTM on August 4th this year to await its arrival with the ISS less than a week later where KiroboTM became the world’s first robot to communicate with astronaut Koichi Wakata.

Meet KiroboTM – World’s first robot to talk in space. Video courtesy of Toyota Europe

KiroboTM is 34 cm in height, weighs approximately 1,000 g, and its spoken language is Japanese. KiroboTM has been designed to communicate using voice recognition, natural language processing, fitted with a voice speaking device, facial recognition camera and a separate camera for recording input data. Though not completely refined, Kirobo is still in the process of further development.

The intricate process of making this project work is understanding how a robot will operate in orbit where there is no gravity. KiroboTM was tested in a low-gravity controlled environment on Earth.  During this experiment the robot did not display a change in how it floats when exposed to slow or fast movements.

The team of researchers were also conscious that voice should not be the only important tool of communication for this robot and this is why the use of body and hand gestures were incorporated into the development of Kirobo.

Additional tests that also became fundamental to the making Kirobo a robotic astronaut included an electromagnetic compatibility test, software integration, an excitation force test, off gas test, a thermal analysis test, vibration test, and an acoustic experiment to ensure Kirobo can communicate with astronaut Wakata without being affected by sound generated by equipment on the ISS.

Kirobo is currently scheduled to stay at the ISS for a year and a half to help conduct experiments with astronaut Koichi Wakata.

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