Nagakute, Japan (AFP) Mar 09, 2005
Japan will welcome the millions of guests at the World Exposition opening this month with hosts trained to greet them in their language, entertain their children and perform rap music with them. The gracious hosts are robots.
The World Expo, which runs in the central Aichi region for six months from March 25, will be used by Japan as a way to display its technological might, of which a horde of robots is set to be the most potent symbol.
Guests will find that the young women at the information booths who speak four languages are humanoids, that the security contingent includes robots on wheels and that tiny colorful machines will sing for the younger visitors.
Aichi's information booth worker Actroid, developed by Japanese firms Kokoro and Advanced Media, looks like a Japanese woman in her 20s and understands 40,000 phrases each in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean.
The humanoid with realistic eyeballs, eyelashes and moving lips gestures and puts on facial expressions suitable for the more than 2,000 types of answers it can give.
The robot may refuse to answer to sensitive questions for "privacy reasons," making an X with her arms and bowing.
She also has a sense of irony. When asked if she is a robot, she says, "Y.e.s, I. a.m. a. r.o.b.o.t" in a disconnected voice and moves about clumsily. A moment later, she says "Just kidding" and starts a natural flow of movements.
Three versions of the Actroid with different faces will be mobilized at information booths of the Expo, which Japan hopes will draw 15 million visitors to its industrial heartland.
Kokoro marketing chief Tatsuo Matsuzaki said it would be only "an honest reaction" if people felt a bit creepy around copies of human beings.
"The more realistic a robot becomes, the harder people try to find how different it is from them," he said.
Thanks partly to its softer image as a young woman, however, negative reactions to the Actroid have been far less than to preceding models, he said.
Box-shaped robots will sweep the roads of the Expo site around which they will move automatically.
The Alsok guard robot, developed by Sohgo Security Services, will provide directions to visitors as it is equipped with a touch panel in its chest.
But it serves a double function and it can try to scare away suspicious people with sirens and light and can detect fires and report them to a security center.
Another remote-controlled robot, Mujiro, manufactured by robot development firm Tmsuk, can transfer suspicious objects with two built-in arms.
For small children, the electronics giant NEC will have on offer the child-care robot PaPeRo.
With built-in cameras and microphones, it can recognize the faces of children and say their names as they line up.
"Even if they queue up in a different order, PaPeRo calls in the right order or finds who is missing," NEC said in a statement.
The PaPeRo also sings with children or quizzes them, recognizing who said what even if they answer is in chorus.
For visitors with less modern tastes, two Japanese national institutes have made versions of the Tyrannosaurus rex and Parasaurolophus, which lived in North America 70 million years ago. The robot dinosaurs are capable of strolling one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) an hour and of screaming for the crowd.
Japan's top automaker Toyota, which is based in Aichi, has said it would welcome guests at its pavilion with a diverse array of music ranging from a brass band to rap - all performed by robots.
The show will feature a two-legged humanoid on the trumpet jamming with fellow robot virtuosos on tuba, trombone, horn and drums.
The music will be interactive, with a DJ robot bringing in members of the audience for a rap performance.
Toyota will also showcase an "i-foot" robot which looks like half an eggshell with two legs and which can let people on or off it by bending its legs.
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