When Kirobo set out for space, he was simply meant to be a companion for astronaut Koichi Wakata. After 18 months aboard the International Space Station, it has earned two Guinness World Records, setting itself apart from other robots.
A small android, Kirobo was awarded Guinness World Records for being the first companion robot in space as well as reaching the highest altitude that a robot has ever gone to have a conversation. Weighing 2.2 pounds and standing 13.4 inches tall, it has a sophisticated system for voice recognition and can also identify faces. To talk to Wakata, Kirobo can stabilize itself under zero-gravity conditions and uses a series of pre-set gestures with an on-board voice synthesizing system and an advanced language processing program that allows it to speak in a natural manner.
A five-year joint project, Kirobo was the the result of a collaboration involving the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Toyota Motor Corporation, Robo Garage, the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo and Dentsu, an advertising agency.
One of the main goals of the project was to determine if a robot could offer psychological support for human subjects experiencing severe bouts of loneliness, like astronauts on extended stays in space, by functioning as a partner in conversation.
Kirobo blasted off from Earth aboard an HIIB rocket on Aug. 4, 2013. It arrived six days later at the ISS and gave its first speech 11 days later. At that time, Kirobo said: "On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future or all."
Kirobo returned to Earth safely last Feb. 10, hitching a ride with SpaceX's CRS-5 Dragon spacecraft. The cargo supply ship splashed down off California in the Pacific Ocean and the robot was back in Japan by Mar. 12.
"From up above, the Earth glowed like a blue LED" were the first words out of Kirobo after it returned home.
Official certificates were presented to the team behind Kirobo by Aya McMillan, official adjudicator, and Erika Ogawa, Guinness Worlds Records Japan vice president, at an event at Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
Yorichika Nishijima looked back at the robot's historic stay at the ISS and said the project was launched at a time when nobody believed it was possible for robots and human beings to co-exist.
"From that perspective, we wanted to send it into space to show that robots and human beings ... can go into a new era. It's a sort of symbolic project, so people can understand how people can interact with robots," said the communications designer for Kirobo.