Sunday, August 29, 2004


Paro is not the only robot trying to engage with people at an emotional level. A joint industry-academic project between the Business Design Laboratories based in Nagoya Japan, and the Department of Intelligence and Computer Science at the Nagoya Institute of Technology has resulted in Ifbot.

Ifbot attempts to communicate not through the soothing effects of movement and touch as is the case with Paro (although an attempt has been made to give the robot a pleasingly cute egg-like shape) but rather through its ability to converse. As is so often the case in Japan, the research has been spurred on by the fact that Japan's population is ageing rapidly and the robot is seen as being a possible companion for elderly people living alone. The inventors however, have wider ambitions, envisaging a time when the robot will be a part of the family unit.

In order to make communicating with Ifbot as rewarding as possible the robot has voice and face recognition abilities which allow it to recall the person it is talking to. It also has a face tracking system allowing it to keep that all-important eye contact. The robot expresses emotions using the LEDs on its face, allowing it to show up to 40 expressions. It has a vocabulary of over 10,000 words and a speaking ability similar to that of a young child. It is already on sale in Japan, retailing at around 500,000 Yen (2500 pounds).

Sunday, August 01, 2004


I recently saw this robot at the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology (NAIST), in Tsukuba, Japan. The Senior Research Scientist in charge of the research project is called Takanori Shibatra and his office is a shrine to the success of his robot, Paro.

Paro is intended for use mainly as a therapeutic robot, in hospitals, old people's homes etc. Anywhere where people could benefit from the calming effects that have long been associated with interacting with a pet. Paro of course has several advantages over a pet - it doesn`t need exercising or feeding and if you have an allergy it is no problem.

Beneath Paro's fluffy exterior there lie a whole host of touch sensors which enable the robot to detect in detail the wayit is being touched and respond appropriately. By simple movements and very cute facial expressions it is able to achieve a remarkable effect on those with whom it interacts. For this reason it has been proclaimed the "World's most therapeuic robot" by the Guiness Book of Records.