Robot model no challenge yet to human rivals

Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:53pm EDT
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By Chika Osaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - It may have been a fashion first, but supermodel Naomi Campbell has nothing to fear.

The HRP-4C humanoid robot showed off her stormtrooper-like silver and black frame and bowed to a fashion-savvy audience at the start of the annual Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo -- but even her creators admit the mechanical model needs more work.

The HRP-4C has battery-powered motors in her body and face, allowing her to imitate the expressions, gait and poses of a supermodel --- up to a point.

"Our robot can't move elegantly like the real models that are here today," Shuji Kajita, director of humanoid robot engineering at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), told Reuters. "It'll take another 20 to 30 years of research to make that happen."

The 158 cm (5 ft 2 inch) high-tech model weighed in at 43 kg (95 lb), slimmed down from earlier versions just in time for her catwalk debut at one of Japan's biggest fashion events.

AIST designers say the eyes, face and hair of the robot, which cost about $2 million to develop, are based on Japanese "anime" cartoon characters.

Japan, home to almost half of the world's 800,000 industrial robots, expects the industry to expand to $10 billion in the future including models that can care for its fast-growing elderly population.

(Writing by Michael Caronna and Linda Sieg; Editing by Rodney Joyce)

<p>The HRP-4C humanoid robot appears on the runway at the Shinmai Creator's Project fashion show during Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo, March 23, 2009. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>