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Japan plans humanoid robot mission in space

TOKYO (AFP): Japan's space agency is planning a mission to send a humanoid robot to space so that it can communicate with people on Earth through Twitter, an agency official has said.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to carry out feasibility studies before making a final decision to send the robot to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2013, the JAXA official said Thursday.

Under the project, the Japanese-made robot is expected to stay in the ISS to help communicate with Earth while, for example, astronauts are asleep, according to JAXA engineer Satoshi Sano.

The robot is also expected to take pictures and send messages through microblog site Twitter, Sano said, adding that it can "tweet" simple words such as "good morning" and "good night" as well as indicate its location above Earth.

The robot will also analyse astronauts' stress levels by detecting changes in their tone of voice and facial expressions, which will be used to study the effectiveness of stress relief measures.

"As the society is greying, I hope this project will lead to (creating a system) to facilitate communications with elderly people isolated in remote places and with family members through a robot," Sano said.

The University of Tokyo and advertising agency Dentsu will also take part in the project.

NASA plans to send a humanoid robot of its own, developed with General Motors, to the ISS on board the space shuttle Discovery on February 24 to support astronauts' operations.

Japan leads the world's robotic industries in fields ranging from manufacturing to entertainment and security.

Toyota and Honda have already unveiled several types of humanoid robots.


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