This Hilarious Conversation With A Space Robot Makes Kirobo Seem Almost Human

by Elizabeth Howell on December 20, 2013

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Just how human-sounding is Kirobo, the first talking robot on the station? This amusing conversation, recorded on the International Space Station and broadcast on a Toyota YouTube channel, shows a pint-sized robot that not only responds to questions, but also gestures and moves around in a scary person-like way.

As Kirobo chats with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata — who is excellent at deadpan, by the way — the two discussed matters such as how the Earth looks from space, the Japanese robotic arm Kibo and — right at the end — the most important difference between Kirobo and his backup, Mirata.

We don’t want to spoil the joy of the conversation for you by repeating what Kirobo says, but let’s just say there’s something special about watching a Japanese space robot make a reference to the first landing on the moon, which was hailed as a huge technological achievement when it happened in 1969. 

The 13.4-inch (0.34 meter) Kirobo is sponsored by Toyota and the University of Tokyo and is supposed to be able to pick up on the facial expressions of crewmates. The robot will be working closely with Wakata during Expedition 38 and then Expedition 39, when Wakata assumes command of station.

One goal is to see how well humans and semi-autonomous robots can work together in space. To see Kirobo’s first words from station, check out our past story from September.

The Kirobo talking robot on the ISS. Credit: Toyota.

The Kirobo talking robot on the ISS. Credit: Toyota.


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE December 20, 2013 at 12:59 PM


InTheory December 21, 2013 at 9:13 PM

Well, I can say that it’s cute as hell, but I’m thinking of my Apple //c from 30 years ago and how much more capable my quad core i7 retina Macbook pro is and then project that advance onto the robot. Cute today, a colleague in 30 years?

Brendon Bolger December 22, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Cute sure, but is it evolving it’s responses (maybe via some genetic algorithm), or is it merely choosing responses from a predefined set, in a manner akin to an internet chatbot? (Sadly, the responses given feel very “Paula” or “A.L.I.C.E”.) Can Kirobo, for instance, autonomously ask an original question without prompting? (E.g. “What is that unknown device your holding”? or “What is through that door”?).

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