Japan sends talking robot into space as part of program to help lonely people

Kirobo is part of a project to help provide companionship to lonesome people

Kirobo, a talking robot that also recognizes faces, was launched Sunday on a cargo transfer vehicle and will reach the International Space Station in six days.

The robot is part of a program that aims to provide companionship using such devices to people living alone including the elderly.

Kirobo boarded the Kounotori 4 cargo transfer vehicle launched from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center atop an H-IIB launch vehicle on Sunday morning, the Kibo Robot Project, which counts Toyota and Robo Garage as two of the project partners, said on its website.

The black and white robot, with red boots, is a little over 13-inches (34 centimeters) tall, and combines speech, voice and face recognition and other communications functions. Its first task will be to communicate with Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who joins the robot in November, according to reports. Backup crew member Mirata, who stays back in Japan, has similar capabilities.

"The Kibo robot has a special mission: To help solve the problems brought about by a society that has become more individualized and less communicative," the project wrote on its website.

Japanese-speaking Kirobo will spend 18 months on the ISS, talking to Wakata.

The project earlier asked people to suggest names for both the robots, and got 2,452 entries from 1,226 people.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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