The Sciences

Japan Wants to Send a Tweeting Companion-Bot to the Space Station

DiscoblogBy Patrick MorganFeb 17, 2011 4:44 PM

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It's official: The robots are taking over the space station. It will start with Robonaut 2, the humanoid maintenance bot that NASA is sending to the International Space Station next week. And now Japan's space agency (JAXA) has announced plans to send its own bot to the ISS. JAXA's humanoid robot will not only talk and Twitter, but it will also act as a space nurse, monitoring the health of the astronauts. The researchers behind the project say the bot would have a number of attributes that would make it a valuable crew member. For example, they say, it would never have to sleep--so it could keep watch when the flesh and blood astronauts are in dreamland. And then there are its conversational skills, which would make it a lively companion for those lonley spacefarers. "We are thinking in terms of a very human-like robot that would have facial expressions and be able to converse with the astronauts," JAXA's Satoshi Sano told the AP. Finally, the bot could take up that crutial task: manning a Twitter feed. The researchers note that NASA's bot has a Twitter feed, but it's written and managed by humans. JAXA's bot could be programmed to send original tweets, the researchers suggest--for example, it could send along the photos it snaps. While all sounds impressive, this metal-brained space cadet is part of a much bigger goal. According to the AP, the researchers want to bring sophisticated robots into our everyday lives:

Improving robot communication capabilities could help the elderly on Earth by providing a nonintrusive means of monitoring the robot owner's health and vital signs and sending information to emergency responders if there is an abnormality, JAXA said.

JAXA hopes to launch its humanoid companion-bot into space in 2013. And with Japan's project several years away, all eyes are currently on NASA's Robonaut 2. R-2 has some human features--such as a head, hands, and arms--but it's more designed for grunt work than the model JAXA hopes to build. R-2 is set to blast off on the space shuttle Discovery next week; once aboard the space station, astronauts and Earth-bound engineers will put R-2 through its paces to find out exactly what the first robot astronaut is capable of. Related Content: 80beats: The Robotic Right Stuff: What It Takes to Become the First Robot Astronaut 80beats: A New Crew Member for the Space Station: The “Robonaut 2″ 80beats: Japanese Consortium: We'll Send a Humanoid Robot to Walk on the Moon Discoblog: Proof That We Live in the Future: Tweets From a Robot Astronaut Discoblog: Astronauts in Space Finally Enter the Intertubes

Image: Wikimedia Commons / NASA

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