Robot girl a high-tech work in progress
Tuesday 17 March 2009
A new walking, talking robot from Japan has a female face that can smile and has trimmed down to 43 kilogrammes to make a debut at a fashion show.
But it still hasn't cleared safety standards required to share the catwalk with human models.
Developers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a government-backed organisation, said their "cybernetic human," wasn't ready to help with daily chores or work side by side with people - as many hope robots will be able to do in the future.
"Technologically, it hasn't reached that level," said Hirohisa Hirukawa, one of the robot's developers. "Even as a fashion model, people in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure."
For now, the 158 centimetre tall black-haired robot code-named HRP-4C - whose predecessor had weighed 58 kg - will mainly serve to draw and entertain crowds.
Developers said the robot may be used in amusement parks or to perform simulations of human movement, as an exercise instructor, for instance.
HRP-4C was designed to look like an average Japanese woman, although its silver-and-black body recalls a space suit. It will appear in a Tokyo fashion show - without any clothes - in a special section just for the robot next week.
The robotic framework for the HRP-4C, without the face and other coverings, will go on sale for about 20 million yen (£145,000) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said.
Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth. Honda Motor Co. has developed Asimo, which can walk and talk, although it doesn't pretend to look human.
Other robots, like the ones from Hiroshi Kobayashi at the Tokyo University of Science and Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University, have more human-like faces and have been tested as receptionists.
But demands are growing for socially useful robots, such as ones that can care for the elderly and sick, said Yoshihiro Kaga, a government official in the trade and industry ministry.
"We want this market to grow as an industry," he said.
The HRP-4C has 30 motors in its body that allows it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.
In a demonstration for reporters, the robot waddled out, blinking, a bit like an animation figure come to life, and said, "Hello, everyone," in a tiny feminine voice while its mouth moved.
The demonstration didn't all go smoothly. The robot often looked surprised, opening its mouth and eyes in a stunned expression, when the demonstrator asked it to smile or look angry.
Its walk was also not quite ready for the Paris Collection, partly because its knees are permanently bent. It has sensors in its feet but lacks the sensitive balance of a real human.
The big challenge in creating HRP-4C was making the parts small enough so it looks female, especially its thinner legs, said Shuuji Kajita, who leads the institute's humanoid research group.
"But this is just the first step," he said.
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