At first glance, Kibo-Robo looks more like a children's toy than a highly advanced machine. The anime-styled robot's as diminutive as they come, standing at only one foot tall, and resembling a distant descendent of Astro Boy. It also just so happens to be the first talking robot ever launched into space, and this week, it had its first conversation.
We've known this moment was coming for a while - Toyota informed us of its plans for Kibo-Robo (Kirobo for short) way back in June- but it's still incredibly fascinating (and, I suppose, more than a touch unnerving) to finally see it happen. To be fair, Kirobo was up in space as early as October, but it wasn't really much for conversation back then: it's only programmed to speak Japanese, and unfortunately, no one on the station at the time could engage with it. As a result, it simply gave a short speech, then played the waiting game. Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency arrived in November.
After taking some time to get settled in, Wakata finally got the chance to speak with Kirobo, which is equipped with some of the most advanced voice recognition software it's ever developed. The discourse between Wakata and the diminutive machine began in earnest, starting out very slow. Although there was more than one awkward pause, eventually the two were able to carry out a real conversation.
"Nobody knew how well Kirobo would be able to answer Wakata's questions," explained creator Tomotaka Takahashi, "but the conversation smoothed out over time. Through layers of communication, we were able to observe the initial stages of a relationship begin to develop between a human and a robot, and I think that was our biggest success."
The project involving Kirobo - a joint venture between advertising company Dentsu, Automotive Manufacturer Toyota, and Professor Takahashi - will continue until the robot returns to Earth in December 2014. You can check out the full conversation between the two above.