The first talking humanoid robot, Kirobo, has taken off from a Japanese space centre for the International Space Station.
The Japanese rocket H-IIB Transfer Vehicle blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Centre carrying five and a half tonnes of supplies and equipment.
Kirobo was on board Konotori 4, an unmanned space cargo transporter, and is expected to reach the ISS on Thursday.
While conventional robots in space have usually been tasked with maintenance or mechanical operations, Kirobo’s mission is to be a companion to astronaut Koichi Wakata onboard the ISS.
Standing at just 34cm (13.4in) tall and weighing about 1kg (2.2 pounds), Kirobo is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Mr Wakata.
The robot, which has a wide range of physical motion, will also play a role in some missions, relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut.
Sending the android to space is part of a study aimed at seeing how a non-human companion can provide emotional support for people isolated over long periods.
Back on Earth, twin robot Mirata will be on the lookout for any problems encountered by its electronic counterpart.
The name Kirobo derives from the Japanese words “hope” and “robot”, while Mirata comes from the word “future”.
The robonaut duo are capable of recognising human voice and speech, has pre-programmed responses and actions to questions while it can also create verbal responses based on its past conversations.
The communication skills are still a work in progress, with occasional glitches in responses.
The endeavour is a joint project between advertising company Dentsu, auto giant Toyota and robot creator Tomotaka Takahashi at the University of Tokyo’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology.
The biggest challenge is making the robot compatible with space, said Mr Takahashi.
It took more than nine months and dozens of tests to ensure its reliability.
One of the experiments involved taking a parabolic flight test to see if the Kirobo can move and talk in a low-gravity environment.
Another experiment has tested the compatibility of the robot’s power system with that of the ISS.
Mr Wakata is due to arrive at the ISS around November.