Sony, Matsushita, Honda, Mitsubishi, NEC, Omron and other Japanese companies have invested tens of millions on research and development of personal robots. Honda alone spent $100 million over 15 years to develop a humanlike robot. Toshi Toi, head of Sony's Digital Creatures Lab, predicts that each of Japan's 46 million households will have one to three robots by 2020.

Honda is one company that said it is committed to letting its technology be used for military purposes. Honda also reportedly sent executives to the Vatican in the 1990s to make sure the Catholic Church had no objections to humanoid robots and indicated that Honda had no intention of "playing God."

A number of Japanese scientists have worked on robots that locate and detonate mines. Some look like spiders. Others look like crabs or caterpillars. One device developed by the Tokyo-based company Geo Search uses radar to locate holes with mines and a devices that digs up the mines.

Osaka-based NEC and Mie University have developed a 40-centimeter-tall winebot, a robotic sommelier that can identify dozens of different wines, cheese and hors d’oeuvres. At the end its arm is an infrared spectrometer that can analyze substances by irradiating them at different wavelengths. The robot can name the brand of some wines, determine whether it is sweet or dry, and makes a couple comment in a childlike voice such as which food it might go well with. Recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the first robot sommelier, it can also “identify” different kinds of cheeses and determine the ripeness of an apple but clearly has limited it abilities.

Robot Pets in Japan

Aibos and an Aibo case
Many people feel there is a bright future for robots as pets because they are allowed in apartments that don’t allow pets and don’t need constant car and can be left alone for long periods of time. Robot pets have shown to be beneficial to elderly people who need companionship and children in hospitals who need cheering up.

Omron Corp has produced a furry, tiger-striped. lifelike, battery-power robot cat named Tama that sells for $1,500. It moves its head in the direction of voices, falls asleep when it is gently petted, growls when it is disturbed, and closes it eyes and meows when its chin is rubbed. Matsushita makes a robot Teddy Bear that talks about the weather, smiles when you shake its han, responds to phrases like "Good Morning" and "Hello," has an LCD screen with eyes that open and close and display a variety of expressions.

NEC has developed the PaPeRo robot to watch over children. This robot can carry on a conversation and be sent to do various things with cell phone text messages.

Robot dogs have been shown to improve the moods of elderly patients with severe dementia. The robots are designed to be companions and aides, reminding their owners to take their medicine and other things. Studies have shown that patients with soft, furry exteriors are desired. Aibo and other robot dogs have been outfitted with soft coats to make them desirable.


Paro is a white furry, seal-shaped robot designed by Takanori Shibata at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. Selected by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most soothing robot, it is used to cheer up depressed patients in hospitals and nursing homes. It is covered in soft artificial fur and behave like a cuddly animal when held and responds to people’s actions and words, moving its head and flippers and making baby seal noises depending on what people do.

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Paro, the long-lashed, dark-eyed snow-white baby harp seal, seems to have secured a niche as a therapeutic companion for the elderly. Covered with soft antibiotic fur, the seal is popular in care facilities across Japan, and increasingly in Europe and the United States since its release overseas in 2008. With five sensors, Paro responds to touch, light, sound, temperature and posture by moving its head, legs and tail to evoke primordial nurturing instincts in humans. Now in its eighth generation, Paro's success does not derive from cuddly responsiveness and evocative cries alone. The real success may be that Paro is not meant to replace humans, but rather work in tandem with skilled caregivers. [Source: Christal Whelan, The Daily Yomiuri, August 2, 2011]

Paro is 57 centimeters long and weighs 2.7 kilograms. Selling for around $3,500, it has received high marks from facilities for children and the elderly in 20 countries. People have been observed singing lullabies to Paro and showering it with the same kind of attention given to children or living pets. Paro is used in Denmark in therapy sessions at welfare facilities for the aged. The Danish film maker Phie Ambo made a documentary about the relation between humans and robots, using video of people in Europe and Japan interacting with Paro.

Robot Fish in Japan

Scientists at Mitsubishi Heavy Industry developed a robot fish that looks and swims like a real fish. Measuring 60 centimeters in length and weighing 2.6 kilogram, the radio-controlled robotic sea bream is covered with a silicone skin and is equipped with video camera for eyes. With a fully charged battery it can swim for two hours at speeds up to five knots.

The robotic fish was developed over four years at a cost of $1 million to help design ships and submersibles remain stable in the rolling ocean. Mitsubishi has also developed an 80-centimeter-long, 12-kilogram, remote-controlled robotic coelacanth (an ancient fish once thought to be extinct) that it hopes to sell for aquariums.

Robotic reef fish produced by Ikeda-based Eamex Co. and Suita-based Daiichi Kogei are powered by artificial muscles made from plastic that expands and contracts in response to electric signals. The movement of the fish is very lifelike. Marketed under the name Floajet, the fishes sell for about ¥16,000 each.

Takara Co., a Japanese toy manufacturer, has developed robot jellyfish that pulsates around a tank. Made of plastic and metal, it is 15 centimeters long and cost about $50. It gets its power from solar-powered batteries. Takara also makes robotic shrimp, fish and crabs.

Insect Robots in Japan

human-carrying robot
Scientists at the Isao Shimoyama lab at the University of Tokyo have attached microprocessors to the backs of cockroaches, making them "biobots" that are controlled with remote controls that activate electrical signals that stimulate parts of the insects nervous system and make them walk. Scientists hope to use remote-controlled cockroaches to explore places that humans find unwelcoming such nuclear reactors and sewers. One Japanese scientist said, "The potential applications of this kind of work is immense."

Experimental solar-powered "ladybugs,” produced by Sanyo, have sensors that steer the robots in the direction of light. Denso inspections robots moves through plastic tubes by expanding and contracting like an earthworm.

Seiko Epson Corporation has developed a flying microrobot that weighs only 9.9 grams. Resembling a cross between a helicopter and a praying mantis, it uses conter-rotating propellers powered by an ultrathin, ultrasonic motor with a very high power-weight ratio. At the time it was introduced in 2003 it was the smallest flying robot.

Ryohei Kanzaki of the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology is experimenting with insect powered robots. He has developed a 15-centimeter-high robot vehicle that is powered by a male silkworm moth that moves a ball with its legs as it tries to reach a piece of paper of soaked with female pheromones.

Human Robots in Japan

Mitsubishi's Waimauru
"Fanuc Man" was a 15-foot-tall humanoid robot developed in the 1980s by Fujitsu. It could lift a 440-pound barbell over its head with two mechanical hands, and was so manually dexterous it could assemble a seven-part, ten-inch-tall miniature of itself.

Hitachi produces a humanoid Emiew robot that gets around on two wheels and has a digital camera and radar sensors that allow it avoid obstacles with a reaction time of 0.1 seconds. It can also respond to simple voice commands and read weather forecast. It is 130 centimeters tall and weighs 70 kilograms

Fujitsu’s Enon robot is 130 centimeters tall and is equipped with voice recognition capabilities, cameras and sensors. It can find itself in an office, store information using programs inside its computer brain and move on wheels at a speed of three kilometers per hour.

Wakaba, a life-like robot that looks like pretty young woman, has been put to work at the information desk at the 2005 Aichi Expo and fragrance counter at the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo.

CB2 is a child robot developed by Osaka University. Standing 1.3 meter stall and weighing 33 kilograms, it has flexible joints and soft skin, optical and auditory sensors, 200 tactile sensors imbedded on its gray skin, and 51 actuators in the body that run on compressed air and enable the robot to blink, altar its facial expressions. make complex movements in a smooth, child-like way. The name CB2 is an abbreviation for Child Robot with Biometric Body.

Ai-chan, a robot developed by a research team headed by Waseda University's Prof. Atsuo Takanishi, has sensors that allow it to see, feel, hear and smell. It can follow a light beam shined in its face and distinguish the smell of alcohol. Pino, an android created by the artificial-intelligence expert Hiroaki Kitano, is outfit with a network of neural circuits that are hoped will one day mimic the human brain.

More Humanoid Robots in Japan

Asimo with Yo Yo Ma
Many robot makers are working hard to convince the public that robots are, nice, nothing like the evil robots depicted in films. Wabat-2, a humanoid robot developed at Waseda University's Humanoid Research Laboratory, reads sheets music and plays the piano. HRP-1, a 160-centimeters-tall robot developed by the Manufacturing Science and technology Center, can carry 10 kilograms and climb stairs. It makers are trying to teach it to drive cars.

In the fall of 2003, a Tokyo University team led by assistant professor Tasuo Kuniyoshi demonstrated a robot that could lie down on its back and jump up to its feet. The 160-centimeter, 70-kilogram robot was able to achieve this by rocking backwards like a human and then rolling and jumping on its feet.

The small remote-controlled i-SOBOT is recognized by the Guinness Book of World records as the smallest mass-produced humanoid robot in the world. Standing 16.5 centimeters and weighing only 350 grams, it can raise its arms and legs, do somersaults, bark like a dog and do roster crows. The animal noise made for overseas models are different than those for domestic models. The roster crows, for example, are crow-like in Japanese models and eagle-like for models sold overseas.

In 2008 a robot developed by Duke University in the United States and the Japan Science and Technology and demonstrated at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Seikacho Kyoto Prefecture walked using near-simultaneous brain activity signals transmitted remotely from a monkey on a treadmill via the Internet. The researchers with the project hope to do the same things with a human in 2013.

Murata Electronics has produced doll-size robots that can ride a unicycles and bicycles on a straight line using various sensors and gyroscopic devices to keep its balance. The robots are about 50 centimeters tall and weighs around five kilograms. The bicycle-riding one is a “male” robot named Murat Seisaku-kun. The unicycle-riding one is a “female” named Murata Seiko-chan. When she senses she is losing her balance, a disk in her body starts spinning to compensate. Murata is based in Nagaokakyo, Kyoto Prefecture.

Pretty Humanoid Robots in Japan

A pretty female humanoid robot named Saya, developed by Tokyo University of Science professor Hiroshi Kobayashi can speak six different languages and make facial expressions for fear, surprise, anger, happiness and disgust . During a demonstration the robot has played the role of a teacher in a primary school.

A pretty $2 million female humanoid robot called the HRP-4C was unveiled at Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo in March 2009. Built by the National Institute if Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsubkuba, it is slightly smaller than a small Japanese woman — 158 centimeters tall and weighing 43 kilograms — it has 42 high performance motors and other cutting edge technology that allow it to move smoothly.

Hiroshi Ishiguro and His Robot Copy of His Daughter

Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, leader of the Communications Robot Department of ART Intelligence Robotics and Communications Laboratory, is arguably the best in he world at making robot surrogates. He has made a convincing robot copy of himself but had difficulty making one of his daughter.

Geminoid F, or Fumiko, as she is known, costarred last year in the 20-minute stage drama Sayonara, playing the role of an android. However, in this small cafe in Osaka, Fumiko was a hostess, albeit with certain restrictions due to a permanent sitting position and limited movements of the head, torso and arms. Controlled remotely by an unseen human operator with a microphone, the telepresence android took orders and conversed with customers.One of Ishiguro's biggest challenges with androids is to create sonzaikan, the sense of the presence of a person, not a human impersonator or, at best, skillful ventriloquism.

“When I made my daughter’s copy, we couldn’t install a sufficient number of actuators,” Ishiguro told the Daily Yomiuri, referring to devices that allow the robot to move, “Therefore the movement was very jerky, and it was very scary for her. It looked like zombie or something, a moving corpse.” She told him, “I’ll never go your university again.” He said making a copy of himself was little easier because he could fit more in more actuators. In Linz, Austria he put this robot in a café and monitored people’s reaction to it.

Hiroshi Ishiguro and His Human-like Robots

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, Ishiguro "builds androids that look like normal people. He uses silicone rubber and pneumatic actuators to create subtle movements such as breathing, twitching and blinking. For Ishiguro, if robots can "pass" as humans, they are likely to be accepted as counterparts in society, paving the way for surrogate selves, or what he calls geminoids.” In July 2011 “marked a historical watershed in robot research in Japan. One of Ishiguro's androids made an appearance in a social setting, at Cafe Poco-Pen. [Source: Christal Whelan, The Daily Yomiuri, August 2, 2011]

Chris Carroll wrote in National Geographic: “The so-called uncanny valley, a term invented by pioneering Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori more than 40 years ago,” refers to the idea that “up to a point, we respond positively to robots with a human appearance and motion, Mori observed, but when they get too close to lifelike without attaining it, what was endearing becomes repellent, fast. [Source: Chris Carroll, National Geographic, August 2011]

“Although most roboticists see no reason to tiptoe near that precipice, a few view the uncanny valley as terrain that needs to be crossed if we're ever going to get to the other side — a vision of robots that look, move, and act enough like us to inspire empathy again instead of disgust. Arguably the most intrepid of these explorers is Hiroshi Ishiguro, the driving force behind... Actroid-DER. Ishiguro has overseen the development of a host of innovative robots, some more disturbing than others, to explore this charged component of human-robot interaction (HRI). In just this past year he's been instrumental in creating a stunningly realistic replica of a Danish university professor called Geminoid DK, with goatee, stubble, and a winning smile, and a "telepresence" cell phone bot called Elfoid, about the size, shape, and quasi cuddliness of a human preemie. Once it's perfected, you'll be able to chat with a friend using her own Elfoid, and her doll phone's appendages will mimic your movements.

“Ishiguro's most notorious creation so far is an earlier Geminoid model that is his own robotic twin. When I visit him in his lab at ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, the two of them are dressed head to toe in black, the bot sitting in a chair behind Ishiguro, wearing an identical mane of black hair and thoughtful scowl. Ishiguro, who also teaches at Osaka University two hours away, says he created the silicone doppelgänger so he could literally be in both places at once, controlling the robot through motion-capture sensors on his face so he/it can interact through the Internet with colleagues at ATR, while the mere he stays in Osaka to teach. Like other pioneers of HRI, Ishiguro is interested in pushing not just technological envelopes but philosophical ones as well. His androids are cognitive trial balloons, imperfect mirrors designed to reveal what is fundamentally human by creating ever more accurate approximations, observing how we react to them, and exploiting that response to fashion something even more convincing.

“You believe I'm real, and you believe that thing is not human," he says, gesturing back at his twin. "But this distinction will become more difficult as the technology advances. If you finally can't tell the difference, does it really matter if you're interacting with a human or machine?" An ideal use for his twin, he says, would be to put it at the faraway home of his mother, whom he rarely visits, so she could be with him more."Why would your mother accept a robot?" I ask. Two faces scowl back at me. "Because it is myself," says one.

Actroid-Der Android Robots

Chris Carroll wrote in National Geographic: Someone types a command into a laptop, and Actroid-DER jerks upright with a shudder and a wheeze. Compressed air flows beneath silicone skin, triggering actuators that raise her arms and lift the corners of her mouth into a demure smile. She seems to compose herself, her eyes panning the room where she stands fixed to a platform, tubes and wires running down through her ankles. She blinks, then turns her face toward me. I can't help but meet her — its — mechanical gaze. "Are you surprised that I'm a robot?" she asks. "I look just like a human, don't I?" [Source: Chris Carroll, National Geographic, August 2011]

“Her scripted observation has the unfortunate effect of calling my attention to the many ways she does not. Developed in Japan by the Kokoro Company, the Actroid-DER android can be rented to serve as a futuristic spokesmodel at corporate events, a role that admittedly does not require great depth of character. But in spite of the $250,000 spent on her development, she moves with a twitchy gracelessness, and the inelasticity of her features lends a slightly demented undertone to her lovely face. Then there is her habit of appearing to nod off momentarily between utterances, as if she were on something stronger than electricity.

“Kokoro developed her to be physically realistic, but that's not enough by itself," says Christine Barnes, student co-producer of the Yume Project. "What we're going to do is shift the focus from realism to believability." The Yume Project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to acquire the semblance of a personality.

“On the results of the Yume project, Carroll wrote: “Yan Lin, the team's computer programmer, has devised a user-friendly software interface to more fluidly control Yume's motions. But an attempt to endow the fembot with the ability to detect faces and make more realistic eye contact has been only half successful. First her eyes latch onto mine, then her head swings around in a mechanical two-step. To help obscure her herky-jerky movements and rickety eye contact, the team has imagined a character for Yume that would be inclined to act that way, with a costume to match — a young girl, according to the project's blog, "slightly goth, slightly punk, all about getting your attention from across the room.”

“That she certainly does. But in spite of her hip outfit — including the long fingerless gloves designed to hide her zombie-stiff hands and the dark lipstick that covers up her inability to ever quite close her mouth — underneath, she's the same old Actroid-DER. At least now she knows her place. The team has learned the power of lowering expectations and given Yume a new spiel."I'm not human!" she confesses. "I'll never be exactly like you. That isn't so bad. Actually, I like being an android." Impressed with her progress, the faculty gives the Yume team an A.

Robot Faces in Japan

Scientists at the University of Tokyo have built a computer-operated robot face that it is controlled by 18 actuators that mover different parts of the face. The device — which has a plastic skull, dentures, silicon rubber skin and a black wig — can produce reasonable facsimiles of expression denoting fear, surprise, sadness and happiness, but subtler expressions elude it. [Source: New York Times]

Using a camera imbedded in its left eye, the robot has been programmed to sense changes in emotion by drawing clues from the spatial arrangements from a person’s eyes, nose, eyebrows and mouth. It compares observed patterns with a database for standard facial expressions and deduces the emotion. Tiny pressure pads move the plastic face to an appropriate emotional respond. The developer of the face robot hopes to use the machines to replace human beings for menial chores such as serving elderly people at nursing homes.

The Sony Corporation has developed a computer with a human face on the screen that maintains eye contact with a person even when they move around the room. The head can converse with humans on some subjects. When it the computer face doesn't understand something it shrugs. The hope is that in the future the computer will be able to communicate using facial expressions and gestures. Japan's largest telephone company, Nippon Telegraph and Corporation, is working on a "human-image reader," a computer system that will recognize facial expression, understand gestures and even read lips. [Source: New York Times]

Japan's Okai Electric company has developed a devise that scans the eye and uses the irises for identification. The company hopes to use the devises in cash machine sand security systems. The toy maker Tomy has developed a robot that can have a conversation. Known as "memori" and retailing for $150, it is capable of memorizing 20,000 words and answering simple questions.

Japanese Robots That Help People

Robots are increasingly being looked upon as a means of dealing with Japan’s aging population. Robots have been developed that help people who have trouble walking and feeding or taking care of themselves. Toyota showed a computerized device that latches on to the body to help old or sick people walk and keep balance. Honda has developed similar brace-like gadgets to help people get about. [Source: AP, November 9, 2011]

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Wakamaru has reported news stories from the Internet. It can wirelessly contact family members or the hospital, and even offer reminders about daily medication.

A humanoid robot named Sat-chan has been working at the city hospital in Hagi, Yamaguchi prefecture since January 2001. It does things like carry X-ray films for disabled patients but can only speak three phrases. Hospital personnel credit the machine with creating a harmonious atmosphere at the hospital.

Other Robotic devises under development for the elderly include a Panasonic-made bed that transforms into a wheelchair with voice command.Yamanashi University has developed “guide dog” robots. They are electric carts intended for blind people that can sense obstacles and signals. They were devised because real guide dogs are not allowed in hospitals.

Robots are designed to do tasks in places where it is dangerous for humans to work: mine fields, toxic waste sites, underwater in the deep sea. Kitakyushu-based Tmsuk Co, produced the T-53 Enryi, a 2.8-meter-tall, 2.9-tin robot used to move toxic wastes and removed debris from disaster-stricken places. It was developed with help from fire departments and has been used in earthquake-stricken areas. Osaka hosts the Rescue Robot Contest. Competitor pulls a doll from some wreckage. Sponsors of the contest hope that machines used in the contest can help rescue people from earthquake wreckage.

Osaka-based Toyo Rik has developed $150,00 robot that can flip okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) and understands orders to add pork or spring onions, mix the ingredients in bowl, pour them on the girdle and sings anime theme songs while cooking.

Japanese Household Robots

NECs R100 look like a cross between a windup toy and a vacuum cleaner. Standing 44 centimeters tall and weighing eight kilograms, it can recognize faces, speak some Japanese phrases and be programmed to perform tasks turning on the television, sending e-mail, connecting to the Internet and operating home appliances.

R100 also talks in its sleep, sings to itself and goes in circles when it is bored and sulks if it is ignored. If you don't pat it on the head enough it turns its back. If you pat him too hard or too many times it get angry. It moves around Like Star War's R2D2, speaks 300 Japanese phrases and responds to about 100. An NEC spokesman told the Washington Post, "We wanted to make something that you would want to live with, something that would be helpful, but like a member of the family.” NEC’s PaPeBo robot can translate Japanese to English but not very good.

Wakamura is a robot designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to be a family friend. Selling for around $10,000 and standing about one meter tall, it rolls around on wheels and looks like a human robot in a dress. Equipped with a voice recognition system, a camera on its head, it can send and receive messages on phones and computers and remind its owners to do things like take their medication. It can also fetch objects and recharge itself.

Fuji Heavy Industries producing a washing-machine-size robots that is already being used to vacuum floors in office buildings and apartments. Perhaps its greatest ability is move from one floor to the next by taking the elevators.

Vacuum-cleaner-size, 16-leg "spider" robots scamper over gas tanks checking for cracks and leaks.

Tokyo University and Toyota have developed a 1.55-meter-tall, 130-kilogram assistant robot (AR) that cleans the house. It has five cameras to detect the location of furniture and moves around using wheels in its base. It can move chairs to clean the floor under the dining table and carry shirts to the laundry machine.

Robots have been developed that can navigate and even steer cars. A robotic car from the University of Maryland outraced more than 100 entries from Japan in a "fastest automaton" competition in Tokyo.

Japanese Robot Suits

Prof. Shegeki Toyama of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology has developed a robot suit that a person puts on. Designed to help the elderly do back-breaking agricultural chores, the suit consists of a computer and battery backpack and supports for the legs that help the user stand up even when tired and supports for the arms that help the arms when doing something like picking grapes or oranges.

Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) robot suits which operate under similar principals have been successfully used on hospital patients undergoing rehabilitation and elderly people in nursing homes that need assistance. As of 2010, HAL suits had been introduced to 37 medical and nursing facilities nationwide. A 75-year-old man with leg problem who used the suit told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “I never imagined I’d be able to wake up stairs again. It’s super!”

The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewiit Design Museum in New York features Honda’s Bodyweight Support Assist device — which consists of a seat, frame, and shoes and utilizes balance-control technologies developed for ASIMO — in one of its exhibit sites. The device is used by assembly plant workers to ease the load on user’s leg muscles and joints while walking.

Matsushita had developed an advanced robotic walking assistant that increases a person’s strength sevenfold. Designed do help the elderly and the disabled, it moves in different directions and can negotiate inclines. It is available to special institutions for ¥20 million and scheduled do be commercially available in 2015 for ¥3.5 million.

New Robotic System Can Transmit Sense of Touch

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Japanese researchers have developed a robotic system that can convey the sense of touch--including temperature, hardness and texture--from a robot to a human hand.The system was developed by Susumu Tachi, special professor at Keio University, and his development staff. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2012]

“The user wears a helmet with a monitor display, a vest and gloves that can receive the "sense of touch" of fabrics and objects grasped by the robot. The vest transmits information about the wearer's position and posture, while the gloves recreate the sense of touch and temperature of the object. When the user tries to touch an item displayed on the monitor, the robot grasps the real item and transmit data about its temperature and hardness. As the robot has a number of sensors on its fingertips, the user can even feel the vibrations of marbles in a glass container and detect differences in the feel of fabrics.

Japanese Company Develops Robot Guide Dog

Nick Bilton wrote in the New York Times: “NSK, a Japanese company, is hard at work on a robotic dog that can roll across floors, climb stairs and assist those with limited or no sight. The robotshave been in the works for several years. The newest robot can move up to 10 times faster than the company’s previous ones. Its legs have been improved to help it avoid collisions and tripping over itself. According to NSK, the machines are technically called “quadruped walking robots,” because they use four legs to move. [Source: Nick Bilton, New York Times, November 8, 2011]

“Robotics researchers have also given the latest guide dog the gift of sight by adding a Microsoft Kinect camera to its head. This can help it to navigate stairs and other obstacles. Kinect cameras are traditionally used for video games on the Microsoft Xbox 360 but are also often used in robotics projects.

Robot Sports and Theater in Japan

robot doing a taunting
dance after winning a battle
The RoboCup, the robotic soccer world championship, was launched by a group fo Japanese scientists in 1997. The first year it had 31 teams from 10 countries. It grew steadily. In 2002, it had 200 teams from 30 countries. There are currently four divisions: small, mid-size, four-legged dog (Aibo) and humanoid. The aim is to one day create a team that can beat human players. There has been some talk about a soccer tournament between robots and humans in 2050.

At the RoboCup soccer tournament six-inch robots knock around a golf ball and four-foot-high robots that uses a regulation soccer ball. Each team is made up of five robots, which are not remote controlled but rather programmed to sense the ball and shoot, and games consisted of two five minute halves with a half time long enough to allow the robots to recharge their batteries.

The RoboCup soccer tournament was played in Seattle in 2001. More than 100 teams from 26 countries participated. Explaining their success in 0-0 tie with Osaka University in the finals, University of Southern California captain told Sports Illustrated, "We give each robot a camera [to help it determine where the ball is] and let it act without much nitpicking from the central computer." The RoboCup event was held in Osaka in 2004 and won by VidiOn, a team from Osaka.

In Japan there are ping-pong-playing robots and robots that compete in wrestling matches in Kawasaki and shoot baskets on television.

father and son with robot
In November 2008 it was announced that two robots — two one-meter-tall , 30-kilogram Wakamaru robots made by Mitsubishi — will be cast in a 20-minute play, “I, Worker”, written by an Osaka University professor about a couple that lives with two robots who lost their will to work. It took two months to write detailed control software for the robots to hit their marks and deliver their lines. If all goes well the robots will debut in a production for the public in 2010.

In Japan, sumo wrestling tournaments for robots have been sponsored. At one region tournament in Hokkaido, 175 robots were entered, with the finalists competing for a $10,000 first prize at the All-Japan Robot Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. The robots can weigh no more than 3 kilograms and be no more than 20 centimeters long or wide. They compete in a 1.5 meter "dohyo" under similar circumstances to that of real sumo, with the robot that falls down or gets pushed out the ring losing.

Robot s Replicates Calligrapher's Work and Write Novels

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A robot that can duplicate hand-written calligraphy has been developed by Seiichiro Katsura, an associate professor at Keio University. For the robot to copy the work, a calligrapher writes using a brush attached to the robot, allowing the robot to record information about the movement of the brush, including its angle and pressure. The robot's sensors take readings 10,000 times a second. Then the robot can recreate the brushwork using the information. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 29, 2012]

In an experiment, the robot was able to flawlessly recreated the kanji for a flower written in grass script by calligrapher Juho Sado, 89. Looking at the work, Sado was surprised and said, "It's like the brush is alive." Katsura said "It was difficult to record and duplicate the writing pressure. By using this system, we can effectively learn the skills of a calligrapher, which previously had only been available through experience and intuition.

Henshu Techo wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “A research project will reportedly be launched at Future University Hakodate in Hokkaido to make an artificial intelligence-equipped computer write a novel. The project calls for analyzing closely the works of the late writer Shinichi Hoshi (1926-1997), who pioneered "short-short" stories in Japan, and envisions creating novels either equaling or surpassing those of Hoshi within five years. [Source: Henshu Techo, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 8, 2012]

Image Sources: 1) 11) 12) 17) 18) xorsyst blog 2) 3) Osama Tezzuka and Japan Zone 4) Japan Arts Council 5) 9) Ray Kinnane 6) Goods from Japan 7) 8) 14) 15) 16) Aichi Expo 10) Sony and Japan Zone 12) Mitsubishi 13) Honda

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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