Japan robots chat, play -- and help find lost specs

Thu Jul 29, 2010 8:10am EDT
 
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By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) - Robots that can chat, find misplaced glasses, draw airplanes and play with your children are attracting thousands of visitors during an expo in Tokyo as Japan adapts to changes in society.

Robots, such as the sound-sensitive Chapit, answer simple questions and even joke with people to help the solitary fight loneliness and stay alert in old age.

"Many older people in Japan live alone and have no one to talk to," said Kazuya Kitamura, a representative of the expo organizer. "Communication robots accompany people and don't mind listening to the same stories over and over again."

While Chapit, a relatively simple robot, managed to attract a corporate partner, many researchers, such as Kiyoshi Matsumoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo, struggle to attract sponsors for more expensive projects.

Matsumoto's "Personal Mobility Robot", equipped with four cameras and a sensor to recognize the user's center of gravity, is designed to help elderly move around without pressing buttons, using joysticks or rotating wheels as in traditional wheelchairs.

The robot can also help find misplaced spectacles by identifying them with a sensor.

"We have developed a robot that can assist many people, but because of the high cost, we still haven't found a sponsor," said Matsumoto, who added that the cost of the machine, if mass-produced, would be comparable to that of a compact car.

"In the current economic environment there are few companies willing to invest in such a costly project," he said.   Continued...

 
<p>A man talks to Raytron's communication robot "Chapit" at a demonstration during ROBOTECH, an exhibition on service robot manufacturing technologies, in Tokyo, July 28, 2010. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>