[FoRK] AP on Robots of Aichi World's Fair / Expo

Rohit Khare rohit
Mon Jun 13 10:52:19 PDT 2005


"Robots Dance, Play at World Robot Expo in Japan"
Associated Press (06/09/05); Kageyama, Yuri

A wide variety of prototype robots on display at the World Expo in  
Japan illustrate their potential as tools for entertainment, care- 
giving, lifesaving, and information processing, although researchers  
say safe and reliable public use is several years away. The most  
human-like robot at the exhibition is the Repliee Q1expo: The  
machine, which is covered by a skin-like material, simulates  
breathing and can pretend to look as if it is reacting to approaching  
people. Developers believe Repliee could be a progenitor of robots  
that sell tickets and help elderly people navigate streets, for  
example. Many of the robots are designed as communications aids, an  
example being a videophone-like device that displays a 3D image of  
the caller on its face and mimics the caller's movements with its  
mechanical arms. Another robot can hit baseball pitches of up to 100  
mph thanks to a vision system that processes 1,000 images per second,  
and Hiroshima University professor Idaku Ishii thinks the robot not  
only has enormous potential as a training tool for baseball players,  
but as a super-fast device for processing data. The slithering  
Kinshachi Robot swims like a fish, and Ryomei Engineering says it is  
designed to monitor bridge safety and collect information for fishing  
while in the ocean. Among the entertainment-oriented robots at the  
expo are a pair of humanoids programmed to perform a slapstick comedy  
act, and a teddy bear that moves its arms and nods its head in time  
to the sound of a human voice, which developers claim can help  
children communicate with adults.
See: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/J1GRCDTeTPk9pW/Robots-Dance- 
Play-at-World-Robot-Expo-in-Japan.xhtml

The Japan Robot Association, a trade group, expects the Japanese  
market for next-generation robots -- those being developed now as  
opposed to industrial robots currently in use -- to grow to US$14  
billion by 2010, and to more than $37 billion by 2025.

Robots of all shapes and sizes were batting fastballs, drawing  
portraits, teaching the waltz and doing standup comedy at the World  
Expo -- but several years of testing are still needed before most of  
them can be used in public, developers say.

Lined up in a row of booths, the more than 60 robots  on display  
starting today at the Prototype Robot Exhibition -- being held in a  
corner of the sprawling expo in Aichi, in central Japan -- are  
designed to become part of everyday lives, helping the sick, rescuing  
disaster victims and entertaining families.

Japan Showcase

The exhibit, which runs through June 19, aims to showcase Japan's  
leadership in robotics. With the nation's economy still sluggish,  
corporations, researchers and government officials are hoping the  
sector can provide new growth opportunities.

The Japan Robot Association, a trade group, expects the Japanese  
market for next-generation robots -- those being developed now as  
opposed to industrial robots currently in use -- to grow to US$14  
billion by 2010, and to more than $37 billion by 2025.

But all the robots on display were test models, and researchers say  
it will still be several years until they can be used safely and  
reliably in public. Several robots had obvious glitches.

Cooper, a mechanical portrait artist developed by a candy maker, was  
drawing the faces of visitors on large cookies with a laser-pen. It  
has a program that translates images from a digital camera into line  
drawing instructions, but sometime the robot delivers only a mishmash  
of scribbles, said Yukata Saito, spokesman for developer Yoshikawa  
Kikai Seisakusho Corp.

Assisting in Communication

Many of the robots were designed to help communication. One worked as  
a fancy videophone, replicating the moves of the distant caller with  
its mechanical arms and projecting a three-dimensional image of the  
caller on its face.

One model called Batting Robot has a vision system that handles 1,000  
images a second, more than 30 times the human eye, allowing it to  
accurately hit pitches of up to 160 kph (100 mph). At the expo,  
however, it was using a plastic bat to hit rubber balls at far slower  
speeds.

Hiroshima University Associate Professor Idaku Ishii believes the  
robot can help train major league baseball players, although a more  
practical purpose is processing information at lightning speeds, such  
as detecting cracks in walls during an earthquake.

The exhibit boasts a lineup galore of entertainment robots.

Humanoids Robovie and Wakamaru have been programmed by a famous  
comedy agency to put on a slapstick routine.

A model called InterAnimal is a teddy bear about four feet tall that  
moves its arms and nods in synch to the sound the human voice.  
Developers claim it helps children who have problems talking with  
adults.

Human Resemblance

The robot that looks most like a human being is the Repliee Q1expo,  
which is covered with a skin-like substance and moves its mouth and  
shifts its torso as though it's breathing. It also gives the illusion  
of reacting to approaching people.

But Repliee sometimes goes into what appears to be spasms when its  
program hits a glitch.

Still, it may be a precursor of the day when robots will be helping  
with tasks such as guiding the elderly around the streets or selling  
tickets, developers say.

"When a robot looks too much like the real thing, it's creepy," Osaka  
University Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro said. "But if they resemble  
human beings, it also makes communication easier."

More whimsical is the golden Kinshachi Robot that swims like a fish.  
The slithering robot has comical bulging eyes, but it has a serious  
purpose: To go into the ocean to monitor the safety of bridges and  
gather information for fishing, according to Ryomei Engineering Co.,  
which also develops more lifelike carp and sea bream robots.

The robots, which originated as shipbuilding research, rent for about  
$940 a day. But there haven't been many requests to buy or rent them,  
said sales official Hiroo Minoda.



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