[From June Issue 2010]
In March, Japanese software company, FUJISOFT INCORPORATED (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo), released “PALRO,” (Pal + Robot). Their humanoid robot can walk, recognize human faces, and speak, while exchanging looks with people. Connected to the Internet, it can also communicate via e-mail and by telephone.
Walking robots need strong legs, but using solid metal would both weigh them down, and increase their prices to more than 10 million yen. With that in mind, Fuji Soft developed wrench-proof material technology to make the robot out of plastic, and, they used readily-available materials to further keep costs down. As a result, PALRO only measures 40 centimeters in height, weighs in at only 1.6 kilograms, and sells for 300,000 yen, a relatively low price for a walking robot.
“The merit of PALRO is that you can install new software in it,” says SHIBUYA Masaki, Director of Robot Business Development Group. “For instance, someone developing software that could make the robot turn its head in the direction of a particular sound, could install a version in PALRO in order to experiment. And, because it is relatively inexpensive, facilities such as universities will make them available so that students can conduct research with them.”
Humanoid robots will easily fit into people’s daily lives. “Robots with legs can go up and down the stairs and, also having arms, can open and close the refrigerator,” he says. And while the current PALRO model is only for research purposes, they do have plans to release a family model.
LittleIsland, Inc. (Warabi City, Saitama) is known for their “personalized” robot-dolls. Called “Sokkly,” meaning “just like (the person),” each robot closely resembles its owner, and is custom-made either through personally meeting the client, or by looking at photos of them.
“The quality of the face is important to us because we want the owner to enjoy being together with their robot,” says KOIKE Hiroaki, LittleIsland President. “There are some cases when the customer is female and, although the people around her think the robot looks just like her, she does not agree – that does cause some trouble. In any case, when I arrange the robot-doll’s hair, I enjoy it so much that I forget about time,” he admits.
Sokkly offers other positive features besides just its familiar looks. It can be connected to the Internet or IP Phone, and it has the ability to understand verbal instructions. So, for instance, if you input your father’s phone number into Sokkly, then say “Please call father,” the robot will automatically make the connection.
Sokkly can also speak and move its head and arms. After recording the owner’s voice and creating a verbal database, the robot will talk “just like the person,” but in a more-synthesized voice. It can recognize visitors and verbally welcome your guests with “irasshaimase” when placed in the entranceway of either your home or business. “Users with a little PC knowledge can create their own (Sokkly) programs. But I want to create robots that can eventually work as waiters and caregivers in the future,” says Koike.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo