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Japan to launch talking robot into space

Japan is getting ready to take one giant leap for robot-kind. The island nation will carry out the world's first space conversation between a robot and a human this summer.

A tiny robot named Kirobo was unveiled on Wednesday at a press event in Tokyo. The 13-inch tall humanoid is black-and-white with red boots, and has large oval eyes and a small red mouth.

"Russia was the first to go outer space, the U.S. was the first to go to the moon, we want Japan to be the first to send a robot-astronaut to space that can communicate with humans," said Yorichika Nishijima, Kibo Robot Project manager.

The robot's creators say the robot will be sent to space to give astronaut Koichi Wakata a partner to chat with on the International Space Station (ISS), the AFP reports. Wakata will be the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS. Kirobo will also be the first robot to visit the space station.

"When people think of robots in outer space, they tend to seek ones that do things physically," said Takahashi. "But I think there is something that could come from focusing on humanoid robots that focus on communication."

Kirobo's features include voice and facial recognition, natural language processing and will have a video camera. It has a counterpart named Mirata that will remain on Earth for troubleshooting.

The Kibo Robot Project is a collaboration between advertising and public relations firm Dentsu Inc., the Research for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Toyota Motor Corp, in cooperation with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

"Kibo" means hope in Japanese. In a promotional video posted by the Kibo Robot Project, the developers say they hope this will show Japan's real ability in the world.

Kirobo is scheduled to be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on August 4, 2013.