The Future is Here: First Android Newscasters in Japan

japan-android-robotsThis past week, Japanese scientists unveiled what they claim is the world’s first news-reading android. The adolescent-looking “Kodomoroid” – an amalgamation of the Japanese word “kodomo” (child) and “android”- and “Otonaroid” (“otona” meaning adult) introduced themselves at an exhibit entitled Android: What is a Human?, which is being presented at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan).

The androids were flanked by robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro and Miraikan director Mamoru Mori. After Kodomoroid delivered news of an earthquake and an FBI raid to amazed reporters in Tokyo. She even poked fun at her creator, leading robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, “You’re starting to look like a robot!” This was followed by Otonaroid fluffing her lines when asked to introduced herself, which was followed by her excusing herself by saying, “I’m a little bit nervous.”

geminoidBoth androids will be working at Miraikan and interacting with visitors, as part of Ishiguro’s studies into human reactions to the machines. Ishiguro is well-known for his work with “geminoid”, robots that bare a frightening resemblance to their creator. As part of his lecture process, Ishiguro takes his geminoid with him when he travels and even let’s it deliver his lectures for him. During an interview with AFP, he explained the reasoning behind this latest exhibit:

This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human. We want robots to become increasingly clever. We will have more and more robots in our lives in the future… This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human. We want robots to become increasingly clever.

Granted the unveiling did have its share of bugs. For her part, Otonaroid looked as if she could use some rewiring before beginning her new role as the museum’s science communicator, her lips out of sync and her neck movements symptomatic of a bad night’s sleep. But Ishiguro insisted both would prove invaluable to his continued research as museum visitors get to have conversations with the ‘droids and operate them as extensions of their own body.

pepperAnd this is just one of many forays into a world where the line between robots and humans are becoming blurred. After a successful debut earlier this month, a chatty humanoid called Pepper is set to go on sale as a household companion in Japan starting next year. Designed by SoftBank, using technology acquired from French robotics company Aldebaran, and marketed as a household companion, each robot will cost around $2,000, the same cost of a laptop.

Pepper can communicate through emotion, speech or body language and it’s equipped with both mics and proximity sensors. Inside, it will be possible to install apps and upgrade the unit’s functionality, the plan being to make Pepper far smarter than when you first bought it. It already understands 4,500 Japanese words, but perhaps more impressively, Pepper can apparently read into the tone used to understand its master’s disposition.

pepperAldebaran CEO Bruno Maisonnier claims that robots that can recognize human emotion will change the way we live and communicate. And this is certainly a big step towards getting robots into our daily lives, at least if you live in Japan (the only place Pepper will be available for the time being). He also believes this is the start of a “robotic revolution” where robotic household companions that can understand and interact with their human owners will become the norm.

Hmm, a world where robots are increasingly indistinguishable from humans, can do human jobs, and are capable of understanding and mimicking our emotions. Oh, and they live in our houses too? Yeah, I’m just going to ignore the warning bells going off in my head now! And in the meantime, be sure to check out these videos of Kodomoroid and Otonaroid and Pepper being unveiled for the first time:

World’s First Android Newscasters:


Aldebaran’s Pepper:


Sources:
cnet.com, gizmodo.com, engadget.com, nydailynews.com

Judgement Day Update: Robots for Kids

kids_robotRobots are penetrating into every aspect of life, from serving coffee and delivering books to cleaning up messes and fighting crime. In fact, the International Federation of Robotics reported that worldwide sales of robots topped $8.5 billion in 2011, totaling an estimated 166,028 robots sold. And with all the advances being made in AI and musculoskeletal robots, its only likely to get worse.

Little wonder then why efforts are being made to ensure that robots can effectively integrate into society. On the one hand, there’s the RoboEarth Cloud Engine, known as Rapyuta, that will make information sharing possible between machines to help them make sense of the world. On the other, there’s items like this little gem. It’s called the Romo, and its purpose is to teach your kids about robotics in a friendly, smiling way.

romo2Scared yet? Well don’t be just yet. While some might think this little dude is putting a happy face on the coming robocalypse, the creators have stated that real purpose behind it is to inspire a new, younger generation of engineers and programmers who can help solve some of the world’s technical problems in areas like health care and disaster relief.

Created by Las Vegas-based startup Romotive, this little machine uses the computing power of iOS devices as his brain. Basically, this means that you can remotely control the bot with your smartphone. Simply plug it in to the robot’s body and activate the app, and you get his blue, smiling face. Designed for use by kids, its program comes down to a simple series of if-then dependencies.

romo1In short, Romo can be programmed to recognize faces and respond to visual or auditory clues. The most common reaction is a smile, but the Romo can also looked surprised and doe-eyed. And with regular app and software updates, the Romo is predicted to get smarter and more sophisticated with time.

To realize their goal of creating a child-friendly robot, the company launched a campaign on Kickstarter back in October of 2011 with a goal of raising the $32,000 they would. After less than two years, they have received a total of 1,152 donations totaling some $114,796. Available in stores, at $149 a pop (smartphone not included), the makers hope that Romo will become the first truly personal robot.

Still, never too soon to start your Judgement Day planning. Stock up on EMPs and ammo, it’s going to be a rough Robopocalypse! And be sure to check out the company website by clicking here.

terminator1Source: fastcoexist.com, kickstarter.com