Siri, the artificial personal assistant for iOS devices, may have some competition from a new Japanese robot developed by Okamura Corporation. At least, that's what we might be saying if not for the tech toy's sticker-shocking price of ¥472,500 (US$5,087). Robotalk is billed as a "friend with functionality" that responds to your voice.

Okamura is known primarily for its furniture, but it also has divisions dedicated to telecommunications and factory automation, so perhaps a robot shouldn't be that surprising. However, you'd be forgiven for thinking Robotalk was developed by a different company altogether, as it bears more than a passing resemblance to Fujisoft's desktop robot Palro. It features almost identical specifications, and even uses Fujisoft's proprietary "Sapie" artificial intelligence platform.

The main difference is that, unlike the Palro (which has 20 degrees of freedom, allowing it to walk and dance) Robotalk is a stationary object. The head (which contains the camera and mic) can tilt up and down and swivel left and right thanks to a couple of servo motors, but it doesn't have any limbs. It's the latest in a line of robots, such as Autom and the AiSoy 1, that are essentially dressed up smartphone apps.

Robotalk has much in common with Fujisoft's Palro, seen here

So what's inside? Robotalk comes equipped with a 2-megapixel camera, a microphone, speaker, 60-LED array (like the one in Palro's head), and has proximity and lift sensors. It runs Ubuntu on a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor with 8 GB memory, 1 GB DDR2 SDRAM, USB slot, and has LAN and Wi-Fi functionality.

Does any of this sound useful to you?

Greeting: Robotalk greets you if its camera or proximity sensors detect movement (the greeting can be anything you want, just set it up in advance).

Online search: answers questions such as "what's new?" and "what time is it now?" by querying the internet.

Scheduled alerts: mark important dates and times using Google Calendar, and Robotalk will dutifully remind you of them.

News: Robotalk will read the news for you (you can set your favorite RSS feeds, regional weather, etc.), and if you specify a topic it will focus on that (e.g. sports).

Photo and voice messaging: you can email photos taken with Robotalk's camera, and record 15-second personal messages or reminders.

Chat: cures boredom with thousands of anecdotes, bits of trivia, news, and quizzes.

Survey: set up to 10 questions and possible answers (or allow free-form answers that are recorded). The data is saved to an external USB drive and/or sent to an email address. Okamura suggests this feature could be used to conduct market research.

Presentation: Robotalk gives a verbal presentation in your place (useful for marketing or product demonstrations).

Music player: play MP3s and other audio formats from an external USB drive. It has the usual playback features including repeat, skip, and shuffle.

Games: play Shiritori (a Japanese word game), get your daily horoscope, guessing game, Genius Quiz (based on a popular TV show with a variety of topics).

Robotalk helps out during office meetings by checking the internet when necessary and by keeping track of time

Okamura is positioning Robotalk for use in conference rooms, as part of in-store displays, for hospitals and nursing homes, as well as offices and reception areas. The company thinks it can charge two grand more for Robotalk than Fujisoft charges for the Palro, so unless the reported price is a typo with an extra zero on the end, it probably won't fly off the shelves.

Source: Okamura (Japanese) via Monoist (Japanese)

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