Today Forbes published an article about the launch of Japan’s Kirobo conversational robot into space. We wrote about Kirobo in a previous post. Now, after a successful launch, the little guy is set to reach the International Space Station (ISS) on August 10th.
Just last week we took a look at SuperToy Teddy, a Teddy bear that can be transformed into a true conversational partner by means of a smartphone and a chatbot app. The makers of Kirobo, who include Toyota and the University of Tokyo, have taken the concept even further. They’ve created what appears to be a fully functioning, foot high humanoid robot that can walk and talk and turn to look at the person its chatting with.
The team behind Kirobo seems to be interested in exploring the potential psychological benefits of robot companionship for humans. Astronauts on their way to Mars, or those couped up in the ISS for a year, are an extreme example of humans living in isolation. But loneliness is a part of modern human existence, even for city dwellers surrounded by thousands of other people. Kirobo offers a way to study the effects that a conversational robot can have on people in isolation. Perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to watch a broadcast of Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is set to arrive at the ISS later this year, speaking live with Kirobo from inside the station. And here’s a question: can Kirobo go on a spacewalk without putting on a suit?
Whatever the team learns from Kirobo’s trip to space could be used to improve how the robot functions and talks. Maybe one day soon commercial models will be available to offer companionship to folks here on earth. It’s always good to have someone to talk to. Hopefully they’ll come out with a model that can converse in English as well as Japanese. Take a look at the Kirobo unveiling video if you want to see the talking robot in action. You have to admit he’s pretty darned cute!