World’s First Robot Astronaut Makes Space Station Small Talk

Conversed with astronauts on International Space Station

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Kibo Robot Project / EPA

Humanoid communication robot Kirobo and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata at space in the International Space Station, in early December 2013.

In what’s being billed as the first conversation of its kind, the world’s first humanoid robot astronaut had a chat with the Japanese commander of the International Space Station.

“Santa Claus will come to space,” Kirobo — the 13-inch android that has been programmed to communicate in Japanese and is based on the animation character Astro Boy — told astronaut Koichi Wakata.

Wakata and Kirobo made small talk on Dec. 6, footage of which was released on Friday, AFP reports. The conversation, while a little stilted, ranged from what toys Kirobo wanted from Santa (a toy rocket) to how he was coping with the zero-gravity environment. Kirobo reached the space station on Aug. 10, while Wakata arrived at the ISS in November. Kirobo is a joint creation by the advertising firm Dentsu, the University of Tokyo, robot developer Robo Garage and automaker Toyota. It has been designed to act as a mediator between a person and a machine, and also as a possible companion for isolated astronauts.

“When people develop a relationship, it is an accumulation of small bits of communication,” said developer Tomotaka Takahashi. “We’ve learned important tips to develop a robot that can communicate with people more.”