She only gets out of bed for 10,000 volts
Japanese engineers unveil the first robotic supermodel – complete with sulky face
Tuesday 24 March 2009
After years developing artificial dogs, factory workers, receptionists and even nurses, it was perhaps inevitable that Japanese engineers would one day get around to creating a robot fashion model. Unveiled at the Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo, the black-haired HPR-4C strolled silently on to a catwalk, twirled a little stiffly and performed a short repertoire of tricks for a phalanx of photographers.
A beautifully proportioned 43 kilograms (including battery) and modelled on Japanese anime characters, she seems so far to be limited to just two emotional states: anger and surprise – not necessarily a liability in fashion circles, joked some.
The facial expressions are the product of eight tiny, silent motors, explained Shuji Kajita, head of the team that produced the robot at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. However, with a development cost of £1.4m and a technically unlimited shelf life, she is considerably cheaper to maintain than flesh-and-blood rivals such as Linda Evangelista, who once boasted that she didn't get out of bed for less than $10,000.
Mr Kajita was happy to admit that Kate Moss has nothing to fear, at least not yet. "This is just the first step," he explained, adding his team needed at least another 20 years before they could mimic the fluid movement of a real model.
The HPR-4C joins a growing list of celebrity robots in Japan, including Honda's Asimo, who has opened the New York Stock Exchange. Toyota has developed a series of bipedal androids that can play concert-level wind instruments. Most remain expensive toys, but the industry already generates $700m (£485m) every year for Japan, home to about a third of the world's one million industrial robots.
Many engineers believe they can create working androids indistinguishable from humans. "It wouldn't be that hard to pass off a robot as a human on TV because the most important thing is appearance and behaviour," says Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University who has created the Geminoid HI-1, described as the world's most advanced android.
"Look at some movie stars and pop stars. They already look like androids with their flawless skin: Michael Jackson, for instance. One day robots will seem no stranger than that."
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