Monday, January 21, 2008

Robots in Japan

The Japanese have more robots than any other country in the world. A full 40% of all robots in existence are in Japan. They have over 400,000 industrial robots. They have robot pets, robots security guards, taste testing robots, even robots that take care of the elderly. The Japanese are clearly the most advanced when it comes to robots. Some of their robots even run on fuel cells and therefor do not admit as many pollutants as others.

There are a few reasons as to why the Japanese have so many robots, one reason being the fact that Japan has some of the world's longest life expectancies and lowest birthrates - meaning there will be a shortage of workers. The Japanese are building robots to fill the gaps in industry and in caring for the elderly. A secondary reason as to why the Japanese are so accepting of robots is because the Japanese view robots as having souls. This stems from historical and religious beliefs. In Shinto particularly items that reach their 100th birthday are thought to, on occasion, come to life and be aware, these items are called Tsukumogami (in the Ranma manga Tsubasa dresses as a Karakasa, an umbrella that has come to life). A third reason for the acceptance of robots is the media. In the United States robots are not treated as being overly beneficial, Terminator movies and other movies in which robots go amuck are not uncommon. In Japan, there are many shows with beneficial robots or robots that are in fact better than people for example Astroboy.

I occasionally see Japanese robots in news stories and have decided to compile a partial list of Japanese robots I see in the news. New ones maybe added as I encounter them.

1. Hal 5 (Hybrid Assistant Limb)- Robotic exoskeleton manufactured by a company called Cyberdyne to aid the handicapped. It has already been used by a quadriplegic to climb a mountain.
2. Hello Kitty Robot babysitter - This is a Japanese robot designed to entertain children when parents are too busy to do so.
3. Hello Kitty Receptionist - an electronic receptionist shaped like Hello Kitty. This robot can recognize as many as 10 faces, ask visitors to speak their names, and tell them when the person they have come to see is ready. It has 20,000 stored conversation patterns, songs, and riddles.
4. HRP-4C - Female humanoid walking robot has 30 motors in its body that allow it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise. Is also pretty creepy looking.
5. Saya - a receptionist robot that is now being tested to see if it could be a teacher for students.
6. Asimo - Honda's robot and one of the most advanced ones on the planet.
7. Karakuri ningyō - mechanized puppets from Japan from the 18th century to 19th century used in theatre.
8. Zashiki karakuri - a tea-serving robot, which start moving forward when a cup of tea is placed on the plate in its hands. It moves in a straight line for a set distance, moving its feet as if walking, then bows its head. This signals that the tea is ready for drinking, the doll stops when the cup is removed. When cup is replaced, the robot raises its head, turns around and returns to where it came from. It is typically powered by a wound up spring made of whalebone, and the actions are controlled by a set of cams and levers.
9. The Japanese are now attempting to create thought controlled robots according to several sites. The above mentioned Asimo is one of them, it already, as of my writing this, can be given four commands via thoughts.
10. There is a large assortment of robotic dogs that do all types of things such as help around the house.
11. Gakutensoku - Name means learning from the laws of nature. This robot is considered to be Japan's first robot, built in Osaka, 1929, by biologist Makoto Nishimura. It could change its facial expression and moved its head and hands via an air pressure mechanism.
12. Robokiyu the Rescue Robot -A robot designed to locate those injured after an earthquake and to clear rubble. Mentioned on several sites as a corpse eating robot because Robokiyu grabs the bodies of those presumed dead and stuffs them inside of itself.
13. CB2 Child-robot with Biomimetic Body - a robot that acts like a human infant, which they hope may one day help scientists better understand the child development process.
14. Geminoids - Geminoid family of ultrarealistic androids each made to be a copy of a real person.
15. Simroid - Robot designed to assist dentists in training.
16. Actroid - An android that can mimic such lifelike functions as blinking, speaking, and breathing. Goes to a lot of Japanese science and robotics conventions.
17. WD-2 Face morphing robot - makes facial expressions and changes its facial expressions with nearly the minute detail of a human face.

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