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Robot buddy to keep astronaut company

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By SAPA

Tokyo - A small humanoid robot that can talk will be sent into space to provide conversational company for a Japanese astronaut on a six-month mission, according to new plans.

The miniature robot will arrive at the International Space Station next summer, a few months ahead of astronaut Koichi Wakata, Japan's Kibo (Hope) Robot Project office said Thursday.

At 34 centimetres (13.4 inches) tall and weighing about one kilogram (2.2 pounds), the little android is programmed to recognise Wakata's face and to communicate in Japanese, the project office said, adding that it will also take photos during the trip.

The robot will send information to Earth from the Japanese Kibo laboratory on the space station, where it will spend its time while Wakata is busy carrying out his mission as ISS commander.

A cartoon sketch of the space buddy was released on Thursday and showed a black-and-silver figure with bright red boots.

Mission organisers are asking for suggestions from the public for a name for the robot, which will also have a twin brother on Earth doing public relations.

A team of Tokyo University researchers, leading advertising agency Dentsu and robot creator Tomotaka Takahashi are organising the project.

Sapa-AFP

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