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In Japan, robot babysitter always ready to play

Local kindergartners gather around a comunication robot (C) developed by Japan's robot maker "tmsuk" at Aeon shopping mall in Fukuoka, western Japan, on March 25, 2008. The Japan's biggest supermarket chain introduced the robot, which has abilities to recognize personal informations by RQ code and to call the personal name, for members of its kids club today. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Fukuoka, Japan (AFP) March 25, 2008
Japanese parents who can't find a good babysitter now have an alternative that never gets tired -- a friendly robot at the local department store.

Major Japanese retailer Aeon Co. said Tuesday it has introduced a 1.4-metre (four-foot-seven) yellow-and-white robot at a store in the southern city of Fukuoka in charge of entertaining the children.

If parents want to leave their children with the kid-sized machine, they arrange for the youngsters to wear special badges that bear codes which the robot can read.

The robot can then identify the children by their names and ages and chat with them, even though its vocabulary remains limited.

The robot, developed with leading robot-maker Tmusk, can also use a projector in one of its eyes to beam advertising messages -- or to show pictures that it has captured with a camera installed in the other eye.

Tmsuk and Aeon plan to further develop the technology to put robots to other uses. Future possibilities include robots that guide customers through the aisles of the store, filling their carts.

Another objective is to make sure that children are accustomed to robots, which are expected to be increasingly common in day-to-day life in Japan.

With Japan's population in decline, companies have put humanoids to use as security guards, receptionists and in other functions.

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