Footage of Kirobo carrying a conversation with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata was released Friday, December 20. Their conversation was billed as being the first of its kind. Kirobo is a talking robot.
Their conversation was part of an experiment testing Kirobo’s autonomous conversation functions.
The autonomous functions, according to Kirobo’s creator Tomotaka Takahashi, meant nobody knew how well the robot with artificial intelligence would respond appropriately to questions by humans.
Instead of giving pre-programmed answers to specific questions, Kirobo was programmed to process questions and construct an answer by selecting words from its vocabulary.
Kirobo arrived at the orbiting International Space Station on August 9, 2013. It uttered its first words in space 12 days later.
“On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” Kirobo said in a video message.
Kirobo’s first face-to-face conversation with a human happened only when the Japanese astronaut arrived at the space station since the robot is designed to speak only Japanese.
The following is a translated excerpt of Kirobi’s December 6 conversation with Wakata:
Wakata: How did you get out here into space, Kirobo?
Kirobo: On a Kounotori from Tanegashima.
Wakata: Oh, so you flew all the way into space on a bird? [In Japanese, “kounotori” means “white stork.” The transfer vehicle that brought Kirobo to the space station in August was named Kounotori 4]
Kirobo: It wasn’t a bird; it was the Kounotori rocket.
Wakata: It’s incredible that you came here all by yourself.
Kirobo: Well, I’m a robot!
In another instance of their unscripted conversation, Kirobo told Wakata that Santa Clasus will come to space. The astronaut asked the robot what will it ask for from Santa Claus, to which Kirobo replied that it wants a toy rocket from Santa Claus.
Tomotaka Takahashi said that despite the presence of awkward pauses in the conversation, it was, nevertheless, coherent.
Kirobo’s mission is officially called the Kibo Robot project. It is part of a long-term project aimed at developing a robot that has conversational skills, and can act as a companion to an isolated human.
Kirobo has a twin android called Mirata that serves as Kirobo’s back-up in case of a malfunction.
The talking robot is a joint project of automaker Toyota, advertising firm Dentsu, Robo Garage and University of Tokyo.
Watch Kirobi’s Conversation with Wakata: