Ironically, humanoid robots may have to put aside their arms and legs if they're to gain a foothold in our daily lives. All those servos required to power multiple limbs can get expensive, they quickly drain the robot's batteries, and cause all sorts of problems if even one of them breaks. Eschewing this complexity leaves you with just a head and torso, a compromise adopted by several prospective household robots. Among those is a new communication robot by Waseda University's Ory Lab, launching later this year.
The original OriHime, designed by Waseda University engineering graduate Kentaro Yoshifuji, didn't start off this way. When it was first built in 2009, it had a fully articulated body powered by no less than 24 servos. It was supposed to be a kind of avatar that you could take control of to communicate a variety of gestures – a kind of full-body phone call, sort of like those made possible by the eerie Elfoid P1. Unfortunately, the reality is that this robot would be prohibitively expensive for the average person.
Kentaro is readying the first batch of the production model, which scraps the arms and legs entirely, which will go on sale later this year. It will connect to an iPhone or iPad, allowing callers to look around through the robot's head (which contains a camera), and hold conversations with people from afar. "You feel like you're there with your friends and family without being there. It's like having a robot alter-ego, so to speak," he explains.
It's possible that in the future the robot will get some wheels or other attachments to give it some mobility, but for now it is a stationary object that acts as your eyes, ears, and mouth in another place. Kentaro says it could be placed in a central location inside the home, allowing distant friends or relatives to connect in new ways. Kentaro hopes that sick children will use the robot to feel the comforts of home, which he missed when he was hospitalized as a child.
The robot will cost 100,000 yen (approximately US$1,070). You can see an earlier prototype in the following video.