Japanese Scientists Develop Humanoid for Astronauts

Monday, 03 Dec 2012 09:38 AM

By Bill Hoffmann

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A pint-sized robot with the ability to speak and hold conversations is being developed by Japanese scientists to keep company with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The so-called humanoid called Kibo — which means “hope’’ in Japanese — stands 13-inches tall and weighs about 2.2 pounds.

Kibo will be launched next summer to join the orbiting space station, with his first contact being with astronaut Koichi Wakata, whose facial features he will be able to recognize.

During his assignment, Kibo will not only hold conversations with astronauts, but will also take pictures and send messages about the life aboard the space station to Twitter and Facebook.

Kibo’s first language will be Japanese, but he can be programmed to speak in other languages.

Last week, scientists released an intriguing sketch of what Kibo is expected to look like. The drawing shows a black and silver figure wearing bright red boots, goggles, and a helmet.

If Kibo is deemed a success, scientists plan to duplicate him for use in everyday life on Earth.

Kibo will “help solve the problems brought about by a society that it has become more individualized and less communicative. Nowadays more and more people are living alone,’’ the scientists said in a statement.

“It’s not just the elderly — with today’s changing lifestyles, it’s people of all ages.’’

Kibo is a joint project being funded by Toyota, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Robo Garage Company.

The concept of robots with the ability to carry on conversations has fascinated children and adults for decades.

They were made popular in movies like “Forbidden Planet’’ and “2001: A Space Odyssey’’ and by the television series “Lost in Space.’’

While Kibo is the robot’s name for now, the scientists are asking the public to help give him a more human-sounding name by making suggestions on their website.

The Scientists are also building a twin-brother for Kibo — a duplicate just in case there are any problems with the first one.




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