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Talking Robot Astronaut Heads To International Space Station

HAL 9000 he's not. But Kirobo, the first-ever talking robot in space is heading to the International Space Station this week ahead of his human companion, Japanese astronaut Kochi Wakata, who takes over as ISS commander in November.

The robot, whose outward appearance was inspired by the cartoon character Astro Boy, stands just over a foot tall and it was "built to converse with astronauts on long space voyages," according to Space.com.

Kirobo – whose name is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for "hope" plus "robot" – can communicate in Japanese, keep a record of its conversations with Commander Wakata and is expected to relay messages between the ground and the station.

The BBC says:

"'Kirobo will remember Mr Wakata's face so it can recognise him when they reunite up in space,' the robot's developer, Tomotaka Takahashi said.

'I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between a person and machine, or a person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people.'"

The biggest challenge, Takahashi says, was making the android compatible with space. Among other things, they tested Kirobo in zero gravity.

Kirobo will be linked to a twin on Earth, called Mirata, which will be on the lookout for any problems with his space-bound duplicate. HAL should have been so lucky.

"Both robots come equipped with voice-recognition and face-recognition technology, as well as a camera, emotion recognition and natural language processing." Space.com says.

Let's just hope Kirobo can't read lips.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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