Need home help? It has to be maid in Japan
Friday 16 September 2005
No longer a problem. Just wheel in Wakamaru.
She may not look entirely as you would expect, with a shiny face of canary yellow and metallic arms a delicate shade of silver. But this smooth-talking Japanese lady has the potential to be the ideal companion.
For those with a tendency to feel sluggish of a morning, she can glide to your bedside armed with the news headlines and the weather forecast. For the organisationally challenged, she will willingly fill you in on the contents of your diary. And if you're looking, well, a little rotund, she will urge you to fit in a light jogging session before you start the day.
Friendly, charming and absolutely dependable, Wakamaru is all you ever wanted in an assistant. Within days she could become an immovable fixture in your life. The only thing is, she's a robot.
Wakamaru, the latest futuristic product to be unveiled by Mitsubishi, is the walking, talking result of a Japanese programme aiming to create a robot that comes as close as possible to a real person. The 3ft 4in highhumanoid is capable of recognising up to 10 individuals by name and greeting friends and family in a soothing, gentle voice that betrays only the slightest hint of being chip-induced.
"We have tried to create a robot you can have a relationship with, just like a human," Ken Onishi, the technical team leader in charge of designing Wakamaru, said yesterday.
While none of her features are entirely revolutionary, the robot's overall package was a colossal task for designers, Mr Onishi explained. Even in Japan, a country at the forefront of innovation in the robotic field, putting together a machine capable of combing all Wakamara's gifts is an incredible feat of science.
The team at Mitsubishi claims the internet-linked robot, as well being able to take phone messages and read out any e-mails that may have dropped in her owner's inbox, has a programmed personality designed to ape as far as possible the warmth and friendliness of a real human being.
It has even been suggested in Japan that she is sufficiently adaptable to make her a suitable carer for elderly people with nobody else to look after them. Her frame contains an internal alarm system programmed to call emergency services if a person has an accident. Speech-recognition software and a built-in dictionary provide Wakamara's vocabulary.
The only slight snag in all of this is that, like most good things in life, Wakamaru does not come cheap. A limited edition of 100 robots goes on sale today in Tokyo at a cost of 1.575 million yen (£790,000). As demanding as any other lady of style, she also requires a monthly maintenance charge of about 10,000 yen.
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