Originally announced in early 2011, a small humanoid robot will be sent to communicate with astronauts living in the International Space Station's Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo" in the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 2013. The robot will feature speech recognition and natural language processing technology developed by Toyota, while delivering twitter and voice messages from Earth to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.
The robot, which is being designed by Tomotaka Takahashi, was revealed in a concept sketch released on November 29th. Takahashi founded ROBO-GARAGE, and has personally built over a dozen robots, including some for Panasonic.
The ISS-bound robot appears to be a modified version of his latest creation, Robi, which stands 13.4 inches (34 cm) tall and weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kg). However, the space robot will come equipped with a camera and software trained to recognize Wakata's face – it will also use that camera to take photos to tweet back to Earth.
The project was organized by advertising agency Dentsu Inc. and a team of Tokyo University researchers, in response to a proposal made by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They hope that the robot will help to relieve the stress and isolation of living aboard the station for long durations.
The group is currently accepting potential names for the robot, which should be completed by February of next year. A twin of the robot will remain on Earth, where it will perform public relations duties.