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Japanese androids hold news conference, chat with baby droids

Tim Hornyak | Jan. 21, 2015
The female robots introduced a pair of tabletop conversation robots, CommU and Sota.

Japanese androids Otonaroid (left) and Kodomoroid (right) hold a press conference at the Miraikan technology museum in Tokyo on Tuesday, introducing tabletop conversation robots developed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Osaka University and Vstone, an Osaka-based robot firm.
Japanese androids Otonaroid (left) and Kodomoroid (right) hold a press conference at the Miraikan technology museum in Tokyo on Tuesday, introducing tabletop conversation robots developed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Osaka University and Vstone, an Osaka-based robot firm.

If you find lifelike robots unnerving, try attending a news conference held by a pair of androids.

That was the scene on Tuesday in Tokyo when the androids Kodomoroid and Otonaroid introduced a new pair of communication robots developed by an Osaka-based company, Vstone, and its partners.

Sota and CommU, each about 30cm tall, engaged in dialog with their full-sized counterparts at the Miraikan technology museum as journalists looked on, entranced. The smaller, tabletop droids can only move their arms and upper bodies, but spoke in cute Japanese resembling the speech of a toddler.

"We're good at natural dialog and that's tough to do," CommU, which looks like a baby, told Otonaroid, a hyper-realistic robot "woman." The exchange was like a cybernetic mother and child, evoking both the lifelike "replicant" androids and the sentient toys in the 1982 science fiction film "Blade Runner."

Kodomoroid and Otonaroid have been a feature at the museum since last summer, providing information to visitors, and are not for sale.

Sota (short for "Social Talker"), however, may hit the market around April for under ¥100,000 (US$852), according to Vstone. Developed in collaboration with Osaka University and the Japan Science and Technology Agency's Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) program, the cartoonish Sota is powered by an Intel Edison single-board computer with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and expresses itself via voice, arm movements and LEDs in its eyes and mouth. It also has a camera, speaker and microphone.

The baby-like CommU, still in the research phase, is more sophisticated, with moving eyelids and 14 axes of movement compared to Sota's eight, and is powered by a Raspberry Pi Model B+ single-board computer with HDMI and USB ports.

In a promotional video introduced by the androids, Sota and CommU were seen welcoming a woman when she arrived home, as well as discussing the weather and practicing English. The scene was somewhat poignant as Japan is struggling with a declining and aging population due to its low birthrate.

 

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