Up close, the machine responds to Osada’s voice with an appropriate smile or sigh. It also converses, delivers personal messages and, when Osada dozes off, switches off the telly.
“We’ve programmed PaPeRo to take photographs, tell us about tomorrow’s weather, provide updates on the stock market and connect to the Internet,” Osada says. “He’s fairly talented.”
That’s something of an understatement for a creation that took a squad of designers 14 years to develop at a cost of more than $10 million. At the heart of the “‘bot with the lot” is a combination of IT and audio-video technology. It uses CCD cameras for eyes, has visual and voice-recognition electronics, and works out distances through a complex array of sensors.
The technology has been refined over many years of trial and error. Much of the development work was done in Osada’s own living room.
PaPeRo, an acronym for partner-type personal robot, is the face of the near future, when electronic helpers could assume most of the duties of a housekeeper, security guard, children’s companion and much more.
When Osada whispers, “Sing me a song“‘, the robot rolls its head and complies. The song over, Osada gently pats PaPeRo’s head and the robot’s eyes glow in response. It is one more example that alerts us that robots are really coming, says Mike Hanlon of Gizmag, an Australian-based magazine for adopters of early technology.
Another example is NEC’s PDA-based travel interpreter at Narita Airport in Tokyo. The language aid is designed to help a traveller who speaks only English talk to someone who speaks only Japanese.
Hanlon says this kind of interaction between robots and humans is on the rise. “Most robotic research is centred in Japan. Right now more than 100 projects are concentrating on commercialising robotic technology,” he says.
“So it’s clear we’re on the threshold of useful, affordable household robots.”
Pioneer managing director Ken Barelli, a frequent visitor to Japan, also sees a robotic future. “The robots are here already,” he says, “but they’re almost invisible and much more practical.”
Forget about a robot like Star Wars’ R2D2 helping kids with homework and you with the shopping, he says. Think instead of hand-sized, powerful, fast computers with sophisticated software to control appliances in the house, the office and car.
Copyright 2004 Nationwide News Pty Limited
Copyright © 2002 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.