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Kirobo: A Man-Machine Interface in Space

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Japan has just sent a robot to space in order to provide eventual companionship for human astronaut Kochi Wakata, who will be blasting off for the International Space Station in November. The doll-sized robot, named Kirobo, is from Toyota and is part of an experiment, according to the BBC, in how smart android technology could provide companionship to human beings in the lonely watches of space missions.

Kirobo’s creator, Tomotaka Takahashi, is quoted by the BBC as saying he wishes the robot to “function as a mediator between a person and machine, or a person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people.” Kirobo will apparently bond with Wakata, get to know him, and then somehow serve as his interface with the world around him.

Here’s a video from Toyota on the project:

The project is extremely visionary, but in some sense difficult to understand without experiencing it directly. It’s a relationship, after all, and relationships are tough to appreciate from the outside. Here are the simple questions, though: Is Kirobo’s role that of a chaperone? Or that of a good-time wing-man? Or something else entirely?

It’s also so sci-fi, so let’s look at a couple of relevant vintage sci-fi clips, just for fun:

First, the Disturbing Robot Chaperone Scenario Gone Wrong from 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Second, the Equally Disturbing Good-Time Wing-Man Robot Scenario from the old Buck Rogers TV Series:

All kidding aside, we have finally arrived at a time when humans are going into space with semi-sentient android side-kicks, just as sci-fi predicted we would. It will be interesting to see how the experiment turns out, of course, but I can only imagine that it will be a success. Kirobo is likely to be the first of many companion robots in space.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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