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Did you know the first text-to-speech in space was NeoSpeech’s!? Learn more about Kirobo, the robot astronaut powered by VoiceText

Kirobo uses NeoSpeech's VoiceText for voice

Meet Kirobo, the first companion robot to be sent to space. This small robot achieved a feat that most of us have only dreamed about, to orbit high above the Earth. Kirobo did so for 18 months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Kirobo features Natural Language Processing capabilities, enabling it to carry conversations with humans. In addition to its speech recognition and text-to-speech features, it is also equipped with a camera that has facial recognition abilities and can record video. Kirobo was also specifically designed to be able to navigate in a zero-gravity environment.

Kirobo was made to be a companion robot in space.

So why was Kirobo made?

Kirobo was built by a collaborative effort between the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Toyota, Dentsu, Robot Garage, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The reason for building Kirobo was to test interactions between humans and robots in space. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed how far robotics has come in the past few years and how much they’re used to help people. Robots are being used to help humans complete complex and/or mundane tasks.

Think of a manufacturing plant that builds and puts cars together. Manufacturers use robotic machinery to automate the building process.

Now, space agencies including NASA and JAXA want to use robots for similar purposes in space. Robots would be able to perform mundane or dangerous tasks (such as risky space walks) that astronauts would normally be required to perform.

While Kirobo wasn’t quite built for that purpose, it still served a very important purpose in testing out how well humans could interact with robots in space. By showing that robots could understand voice commands from humans, and then also relay important information back using text-to-speech, researchers could prove that robots could easily work with astronauts in space.

How was Kirobo built?

The University of Tokyo and Robot Garage built the actual robot. The collaborative team built the hardware and worked on its motion generation so Kirobo could navigate itself in space.

Dentsu, an international advertising and public relations firm based in Tokyo, created the conversation content for the robot.

The two most important functions of Kirobo, speech recognition and text-to-speech, were the responsibility of Toyota and HOYA (holding company of NeoSpeech).

Toyota provided their speech recognition software for the robot. Toyota had been focusing on building powerful voice recognition systems to enable their cars to be smarter and understand voice commands from the driver.

HOYA and NeoSpeech’s superb text-to-speech engine, VoiceText, provided Kirobo’s voice. VoiceText is known to create beautiful, naturally sounding text-to-speech voices without sacrificing performance or quality. Kirobo is voiced by one of our Japanese TTS voices.

How did the test go?

Kirobo was sent into space on August 4, 2013 on an unmanned spacecraft from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. On August 9, it arrived on the ISS. Then, on August 21st, Kirobo became the first robot to speak in space. You can see the historic moment here:

In November, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata boarded the ISS (Wakata would go on to become to first Japanese commander of the ISS). On December 7, Kirobo and Wakata had a conversation which set the world record for the highest altitude a robot has ever had a conversation (414.2 km, or 257.4 miles above sea level).

The experiments were a success. Kirobo was able to understand Wakata’s commands and reply back aptly. Here is a video of one of Wakata’s final conversations with Kirobo before he left the ISS:

Kirobo stayed on board for a total of 18 months. A few months after Wakata’s departure, Kirobo even relayed a message essentially saying it was lonely in space. Kirobo finally returned to Earth in February of 2015.

What’s next?

The experiment showed that it is possible for humans and robots to communicate effectively in space. Being able to communicate with robots by voice will be crucial for astronauts. This will allow them to command robots without taking their hands or eyes away from what they’re focusing on.

As for Kirobo, Toyota has developed a Kirobo Mini that’s available to purchase for around $400. Although you and your Kirobo Mini might not be in space, Toyota promises you can still have a meaningful conversation with it.

What do you think?

What do you think the future holds for robotics in space? Will you be purchasing a Kirobo Mini? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More about NeoSpeech’s Text-to-Speech

To learn more about the different areas in which Text-to-Speech technology can be used, visit our Text-to-Speech Areas of Application page. And to learn more about the products we offer, visit our Text-to-Speech Products page.

If you’re interested in adding Text-to-Speech software to your application or would like to learn more about TTS, please fill out our Sales Inquiry form and one of our friendly team members will be happy to help.

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