Lifelike robots start work at Tokyo museum


June 26, 2014

Otonaroid interacts with the public face-to-face (Photo: Miraikan)

Otonaroid interacts with the public face-to-face (Photo: Miraikan)

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Recent advances in robotics have included machines that can learn by having folks talk to them, or droids capable of reading human emotion. Most still look pretty much like motorized mannequins or variations on the Johnny 5 theme, though. Even advanced humanoid bots like Honda's ASIMO would stand out as distinctly non-human in a police line-up. Such things certainly can't be said of the lifelike (some might even say positively creepy) creations of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. Two of his latest androids have now joined the staff of Tokyo's Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and will act as announcer and science guide for visitors to a new permanent exhibition.

Dr. Ishiguro's previous works have included a robot clone of himself and a female android with the catchy name of Geminoid-F. His latest creations form part of a new permanent exhibit curated by the roboticist. The child-like Kodomoroid bot will take the role of announcer, while Otonaroid (designed to look like an adult human female) will act as science communicator.

The first step in giving these androids a human-like appearance is to use a real person as the template. Key measurements are jotted down and casts made of the body parts that will be covered in artificial skin (head, arms, legs etc), even the model's teeth are cast and matched for the robot doppelgänger. A special kind of silicone that's designed to resemble human skin is shaped using molds and mounted over the bot's inner workings, with "artificial muscles" allowing for complex movements and lifelike expressions.

Both robots are remotely operated and remain in a seated position, though they can move their upper bodies, arms and hands. They can also sync their lips in time to the audio, move their eyebrows and blink, and gently tilt their heads from side to side.

Kodomoroid is tasked with reading news and weather reports from around the globe, in a variety of voices and languages, while Otonaroid will interact with the public face-to-face, and visitors to the exhibition will also be given the chance to operate her.

The exhibition opened this week, and also includes a third, minimally-designed and somewhat nightmarish, android named Teleroid, which was first introduced in August 2010. Having been through at least four design modifications since then, its "soft and pleasant skin texture and small, child-like body size allows one to enjoy hugging and communicating with it easily."

Source: Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

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Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

creep factor +++++


Why would you run a story like this without video? Try again when you have something to show.


I was in Japan 30 years ago and waiters were using hand held wireless communications devices for taking and for sending orders directly to the cook for preparation. The underground or subway systems were extensive, not to mention the shinkansen trains were at that time the fastest trains in the world. It's not surprising to see that the Japanese are still about 20-30 years ahead of the rest of the world. If the chinese start learning to innovate and start inventing themselves instead of just copying , then we will all be in big trouble keeping up the the entire Asian area . S. Korea is also on the cutting edge of technology . Asia will certainly be leading the way the world turns, sooner rather than later . We all may be ordering airline tickets from robot cashiers in the near future.

Charles Jones

I can't see what all the fuss is about - this is razor edge tech at it's absolute best. In about 20 years time every child will have one as a teaching aid, or surrogate parent. It can't get drunk, screw around, beat the child mother up or worse beat the child up

"Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one that measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice"

I say bring it.

Aloysius Bear

The Cylons are here!


It's not life-like untill we see it in motion. There lie all the challenges.


OK, we know they can use their upper bodies and they can talk, blink and move hands but what other interesting and exciting things can they do. After all, why go though all this trouble making these lifelike robots if they can't....well, you know.


I've seen them on TV. They look like they've suffered a severe stroke.

Can you say "uncanny valley".


We're already in trouble. But we can have our guns!!!


Come on guys, lighten up a bit on the criticisms here. In the field of robotics, I'd say that comparatively we're somewhere in between the Model A era and 1955. Yeah, we know how to do certain things well enough like engines to make them pretty reliable, but the gas mileage still sucks, most of the cars still have manual transmissions, and the horsepower is way low, but we're making progress, and pretty darn good progress too, I might add. As more and more men and women get on board here, with each one making their own contributions, the subject will advance more quickly. Faster computers and better programming will soon bring us machines that may be difficult to tell from real meat bodies at first blush. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know and only time will tell, so I really do wish that it's the former and not the latter.


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