Robot's Goodbye to Astronaut Will Warm Your Heart (or Terrify You)

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 16 2014 12:22 PM

Robot's Goodbye to Astronaut Will Warm Your Heart (or Terrify You)

Depending on your view of the world, you'll either find the video above extraordinarly moving or absolutely terrifying. Six months ago, astronaut Koichi Wakata left Earth for a stint on the International Space Station, where he was joined by small and, yes, adorable robot named Kirobo.

Developed by a team that included Dentsu, Robo Garage, the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, and Toyota, Kirobo was designed specifically for the Wakata-commanded ISS stint, and his role in the mission made him the first humanoid robot in space.

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In addition to more standard robotic capabilities, the tiny robot was also outfitted with voice, speech, and facial recognition, which allowed him to to develop—or at least mimic—a real relationship with Wakata. Prior to the mission, the hope was that their time together would shed more light on what is possible insofar as human/robot interactions, as well as the potential practical applications of robots in space. Based on the evidence above, that mission appears to have been at least a partial success.

"I'll never forget the time I've spent with you in space, Kirobo-Kun," says Wakata during his tearful goodbye. "I'll also store it in my memory," responds Kirobo, floating in the zero gravity environment while past clips of shared moments between the two of them are replayed in the video.

It's surprisingly emotional stuff, and were I not terrified of Kirobo's inevitable transition to self-awareness and the ensuing attempt to turn our defense systems against us, I think I'd be genuinely moved by the relationship. Their goodbye, if viewed in a James Cameron-less vacuum, is an undeniable tear-jerker.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate video blogger.

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