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First robot in space as Kirobo launches

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Science fiction has long explored the idea of robots in space, to the point where it is almost impossible to envisage an intergalactic future without it being liberally populated with an array of robotic species. And we have, as a world, just taken a first step towards making that vision a reality.

Japan has launched the world's first talking robot into space. The highly advanced android blasted off from the small island of Tanegashima in an unmanned rocket carrying supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and is expected to stroll through the hatches on 9 August.

The robot, who stands not particularly tall at a mere 34 centimetres is called Kirobo, a name that derives from the Japanese words for ‘hope’ and ‘robot’. He is part of a study that is investigating the potential of machines to provide emotional support to humans who spend long periods alone.

Kirobo is being teamed up with astronaut Kochi Wakata. Programmed to speak Japanese he will not only keep Mr Wakata company and generally supply stilted banter, but relay messages to him from the control room on earth. However the astronaut will have to remember not to get too carried away in conversation as Kirobo will be recording all of their cosy chats for analysis.

The 1 kg robot whose design is based on the animated character ‘Astro Boy’ was subjected to extensive testing before he was awarded official astronaut status.

"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."

And yet there is another, more worrying portent for the trajectory of our futures. Apart from Toyota helping develop the robot, understandably enough, another central player in this whole project is Dentsu – an advertising company. What, we wonder, is their angle?

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