"One small step for me, a giant leap for robots."
On Sunday a rocket launched from Japan bound for the ISS with about five tons of supplies for the astronauts aboard the space station. Also on board for Japan's future astronaut Koichi Wakata was a 13-inch-high robot, said to be the first talking robot in space.
The small humanoid machine, called Kirobo, was specifically designed to be a digital companion for Wakata. Kirobo was designed with the help of Toyota and will communicate with another robot back on Earth. It's capable of more or less natural speaking interactions, and can choose its responses to conversational gambits from among the words it has learned.
Kiribo builds on a Japanese trend of using cute robots as companions. Experiments with the robotic seal toy Paro after the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster in early 2012 showed great success in helping lift the spirits of survivors.
Kirobo will join the much larger and future-facing Robonaut 2 humanoid robot aboard the ISS. Robonaut is an experimental tool that may be able to replace astronauts in some dangerous space-walking tasks.