“Kirobo the robot” will make history when it takes off for the International Space Station (ISS) in August to participate in a human interaction experiment.
The joint venture is hoping to conduct the first ever robot-to-human conversation in space in an experiment focusing on future robot companionship and assistance for elderly people living alone.
Toyota’s voice-recognition technology has played a big part in the project, with the technology enabling Kirobo to remember human voices and respond to them in Japanese.
Kirobo is 34cm tall and weighs a mere 1000 grams. It has an identical twin called “Mirata”, who will apparently form part of the ground crew (and act as a backup).
Believe it or not, Kirobo will actually depart for space first and then wait at the ISS for several months before its human companion - Commander Koichi Wakata – arrives to take part in the conversation.
"This is one small step for me, but one giant leap for robots," Kirobo said for itself at the unveiling in Tokyo, to the theme of (TMR approved) television cartoon Astro Boy.
Toyota’s motivation for participating in the project is to address Japan’s rapidly ageing population, with one in four citizens older than 65 years.
Speaking with Bloomberg, University of Tokyo Associate Professor Tomotaka Takahashi believed that Japanese people would embrace the idea of living with a robot.
"Japanese people are more comfortable with the idea of living and communicating with robots, because that's a popular scene in manga," Professor Takahashi said, referring to Japanese comics.
"In about 15 years, we want to see a society where everyone is living with a personal robot."
Assuming all goes well, Kirobo will return to Earth in December 2014.