They might not be your idea of the ideal museum guide, but two androids designed to be lifelike have landed jobs at a prestigious Japanese technology center. Japanese scientists unveiled what they claimed to be the world’s first news-reading android at a Tokyo museum on Tuesday with the new robot guides appearing to be human and possessing a sense of humor to match their shaky language skills.
Kodomoroid and Otonaroid, the droids are designed as hyper-realistic androids that look like a girl and a woman, respectively. The adolescent-looking, ‘Kodomoroid’, an amalgamation of the Japanese word ‘kodomo’ (child) and ‘android’ delivered news of an earthquake and an FBI raid to amazed reporters in Tokyo. She even poked fun at her creator, telling leading robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, “You are starting to look like a robot!”
The pitch-perfect Kodomoroid was flanked by a grown-up fellow robot who caught stage fright and fluffed her lines when asked to introduce herself. ‘Otonaroid’, ‘otona’ meaning adult, excused herself after a quick reboot and saying: “I am a little bit nervous.”
Powered by compressed air and servomotors, the androids can be remote controlled but they cannot walk around. They can move their upper bodies, arms, fingers and heads and also show a range of facial expressions while lip-synching prerecorded speech.
Kodomoroid is linked to the Internet and will read out the latest news when the machines go on display from Wednesday. Otonaroid can be controlled by visitors so they can experience what it’s like to have a robot surrogate.
They’re the handiwork of a team led by Hiroshi Ishiguro, an Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) roboticist who has been creating extremely lifelike androids for years. He’s known for creating an android clone called Geminoid that is the spitting image of himself.
At a press event, former astronaut Mamoru Mohri, director of the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo, presented Otonaroid with its official credentials.Otonaroid accepted the paper, awkwardly grasping it with its fingers coated with synthetic skin. The robot’s business card which bears the title ‘science communicator’ was handed out to reporters. It chatted with attendees after Kodomoroid announced the latest earthquake news.
Robotics expert Hiroshi Ishiguro says they will be useful for research on how people interact with robots and on what differentiates the person from the machine.
“Making androids is about exploring what it means to be human,” he told reporters, according to the Associated Press, “examining the question of what is emotion, what is awareness, what is thinking.”
Both androids will work at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, interacting with visitors to collect data for Ishiguro’s studies into human reactions to the machines.
“We will have more and more robots in our lives in the future,” Ishiguro told AFP. “You can take my androids on planes – the torso in the suitcase and the head in carry-on.”
Ishiguro has a humanoid version of himself which he sends overseas to give lectures. “It cuts down on my business trips,” he said. “Technical advances mean robots look and act more human, and that makes us think about our worth.”
Otonaroid looked as if she could need 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. Kodomoroid even said it dreams of having its own television show one day.
“I hope these new science communicators can help increase the numbers of return visitors to the museum,” Mohri said.
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