It’s been suggested that one of the main reasons video calling hasn’t taken off is because a lot of the time people want to be heard and not seen. A new robot would allow callers to remain unseen, while creating a physical presence of the caller for the receiver of the call. Developed at Osaka University in collaboration with the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) – the creators of Robovie II – Telenoid R1 is a portable robot that is designed to relay a remote user’s presence during long distance communications by mirroring their movements.

With an appearance described as “minimalist human,” Telenoid is designed to appear human, while looking ambiguous enough to appear both male and female, and old or young. Its creators believe its vague appearance will more effectively enable Telenoid to take on the guise of a wide range of users during phone calls. Its child-size body is covered with a soft skin texture to enhance its human-like appearance.

Data collected using real-time face tracking software on the remote user’s computer is sent via the Internet to Telenoid, which then mirror’s the user’s movements. The user’s voice is also transmitted through Telenoid’s embedded speakers.

ATR expects Telenoid R1 to be used as a new communication media and will actually be distributed by Japan’s Eager Co. Ltd. At the robot’s unveiling on August 1, in Osaka, the developers announced plans to begin selling versions of Telenoid R1 in October. The high-end model will go for about three million yen (approx. US$35,140), while the cheaper model will sell for about 700,000 yen (approx. US$8,200). With the market for creepy, androgynous, child-like robots probably not that great outside of Japan, it seems unlikely Telenoid will get a wider release.

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