One of Toyota’s Partner Robots aboard the ISS (artist’s conception)
NASA’s plans to launch Robonaut 2 into space for a trip aboard the International Space Station, scheduled for later this year, will make it the first humanoid robot in space. Robonaut 2 was co-developed by NASA and General Motors and is considered the most advanced humanoid built in the United States. R2 won’t have to wait too long for a robot companion; the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced its own plan to send a humanoid to the ISS sometime in 2013. This follows JAXA’s recent mission, which successfully launched and docked a cargo supply rocket to the ISS.
The robot will be used to send communications to and from the station, including astronaut tweets or photos. The robot could also act as an answering machine for astronauts whenever they sleep, and play back missed messages when they wake up. Far from being a glorified voice mail system, the robot could also analyze an astronaut’s face for signs of stress or fatigue and make appropriate medical suggestions. No further details are available at the moment, but I’d wager that either NEC or Toyota are behind the plan.