Personal Robots Being Developed in Japan

Posted on March 26, 2009  Comments (3)

Robots Lend a Hand in Japan by Tony McNicol

The most numerous, and certainly the most high-profile, service robots in Japan are for entertainment. Ever since 2000 when Honda amazed the world with its walking humanoid Asimo, other Japanese companies have been fast on their heels. Notable examples include Mitsubishi’s lemon yellow home helper Wakamaru, Toyota’s trumpet-playing humanoid, and Murata Manufacturing’s bicycle-riding robot. Although such impressive PR robots are too expensive to sell, Japan also has popular home entertainment robots. The best known to date is Sony’s robot pooch Aibo, which was produced between 1999 and 2006.

Another potential role for service robots is dealing with Japan’s imminent demographic crisis. A low birthrate and unrivalled longevity mean the number of elderly Japanese will increase dramatically over the coming decades. In the absence of mass immigration (which Japan has been keen to avoid) a severe shortage of caregivers seems inevitable. Some people believe robots are the answer. Takanori Shibata, a senior research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says that robot caregivers can be divided into physical service and mental service robots. The former are designed to help with tasks such as washing or carrying elderly people, although given the limitations of current technology, not to mention safety concerns, they are still quite a long way from commercialization.

Mental service robots on the other hand are already here. One of the best known is Paro, an interactive robot seal designed by Shibata himself. The sophisticated robot can remember its name and change its behavior depending on how it is treated. It has been extensively tested in homes for elderly people and in hospitals. In 2002 the Guinness Book of Records named Paro as “the world’s most therapeutic robot.” The robot reminds patients of the pets or children they once cared for, says Shibata. “Paro is a kind of trigger to provoke something in the mind of the owner,” he suggests. About 1,000 of the robots, which cost about 3,000 dollars, have been produced since 2004. Overseas sales will begin shortly.

The effective use of personal robots finally seems to be fairly close at hand. Undoubtedly the initial attempts will seem limited. See Clayton Christsen’s ideas on disruptive innovation for an understanding of how I think the adoption will play out. Robots will be poor substitutes for other alternatives but as we experiment with how to make them effective we will figure out niches for which they work well. It is hard to predict what will happen but my feeling is we may finally be a the point where real uses of personal robots stat to take hold and then the growth may surprise us.

Related: Toyota Winglet – Personal TransportationA Robot to Clean Your RoomRobot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides DirectionsThe Robotic DogToyota Partner RobotsRobotic Prosthetic Arms for People

3 Responses to “Personal Robots Being Developed in Japan”

  1. GregR
    March 27th, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    A close field is Artificial intelligence which we have been struggling with for the last 20+ years. I remember being at University doing my thesis on Joseph Weizenbaum work. That was a while ago, I think that we still have a long way to go.

  2. Anonymous
    May 22nd, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    Japan is the one of the best country in creating new types of Robots. I like Robotic Dog very much. Sure I believe that the uses of the personal robot will increase more and more.

  3. Toyota Human Support Robot » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    September 25th, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

    […] Toyota, along with several other Japanese companies, continue to invest a great deal to create personal care robots. […]

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