TECH : Robot astronaut launched into space

TOKYO A walking, talking humanoid robot is on its way to the International Space Station, after Japan successfully launched the first "astronaut" of its kind.
Its name is Kirobo — derived from the Japanese words for "hope" and "robot" — and it stands about 13-inches tall. Kirobo was part of a payload of five tons of supplies and machinery aboard a rocket launched Sunday from Tanegashima in southwestern Japan, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said.
The childlike robot was designed to be a companion for astronaut Koichi Wakata and will also communicate with another robot on Earth, according to developers. Wakata is expected to arrive at the space station in November.
7 Photos Japanese talking robot Kirobo View the Full Gallery » Kirobo is the result of a collaboration between robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi, of the University of Tokyo, advertiser Dentsu and automaker Toyota Motor Corp.
One of the challenges they faced was making sure Kirobo could move and talk in a zero-gravity environment.
Ahead of the launch, Kirobo told reporters, "one small step for me, a giant leap for robots."
Japan produces some of the most sophisticated robotics in the world, though it tends to favor cute robots with human-like characteristics with emotional appeal, a use of technology that has at times drawn criticism for being not productive.
Kirobo's creators say it will serve an important purpose in space, and help write a new chapter in the history of communication.
"I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between person and machine, or person and Internet and sometimes even between people," Takahashi said.
JAXA said the rocket launch was successful, and the separation of a cargo vehicle, carrying the robot to the space station, was confirmed about 15 minutes after liftoff.

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