Signing robot developed as chatty companion for the elderly

Signing robot developed as chatty companion for the elderly
Toshiba's signing android at Japan's CEATEC this week
Toshiba's signing android at Japan's CEATEC this week
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Toshiba's signing android at Japan's CEATEC this week
Toshiba's signing android at Japan's CEATEC this week

Following in the footsteps of Hiroshi Ishiguro's eerily lifelike creations, Toshiba introduced its very own take on the human-looking droid at Japan's CEATEC electronics trade show this week. The communication android has been built to communicate in Japanese sign language, requiring fluid and precise movement of its arms and hands.

The result of an in-house ideas program, the android has the look of a young Japanese woman, complete with blinking eyes and a "warm smile." Its human-like appearance and ability to emulate human expressions come courtesy of work undertaken by aLab Inc. and Osaka University, while the Shibaura Institute of Technology brought driving and sensor technologies to the party. Toshiba used its experience with industrial robots to create a custom algorithm to facilitate the movement of 43 actuators in the robot's joints.

It's still early days for the project, with the signing robot currently capable of simple greetings and phrases only, though Toshiba is aiming to have progressed to such a degree that the android will be capable of acting as a receptionist or exhibition guide within the next year.

There are plans to introduce speech recognition and synthesis technology for natural communication, with development continuing towards introducing a welfare and healthcare service robot for the elderly and folks suffering dementia by 2020, allowing carers or family members to keep watch on loved ones.

You can judge for yourselves how effective the comms android is at this early stage of the project in the video below.

Source: Toshiba

Part of why human looking robots seem so eerie is because of the uncanny valley. People tend to be fine with machines that don't appear human at all or are clearly animations or caricatures but reject things that appear almost human looking.
ie, instead of viewing them as a sophisticated robot we sort of view them mentally as an incredibly creepy human. If you look at the wikipedia entry on uncanny valley there is a robot nearly identical to this one.
Maybe the goal here is to torture the elderly? It's also yet another example of how much money in robotics research gets thrown down the bottomless pit of buildinging expensive humanoids.
R2-D2 was the robot in Star Wars that actually did useful stuff, C-3PO was a humanoid because the only job it had was to talk. This robot talks but even plugged in it probably couldn't keep up with a old lady with a walker or a Hoveround.
It's frustrating how inept the household robotics industry has generally shown to be. For the cost of building one mostly functionless humanoid robot you could build 1,000 telepresence robots that are actually useful and don't have to be plugged in to movel:
I made a similar rant about humanoid robotics here in 2005 and we are almost no farther along:
Wowee robotics built the Rovio in 2008 similar to some of those ideas but it had a lot of bugs and now days you could implement many of the concepts with a phone/tablet instead of having to offload a lot of the heavy lifting to a computer over WiFi. Maybe progress will happen after a Silicon Valley company comes in with an idea that seems like it should have been obvious all along as is often the case.
Also, not only is climbing stairs a trivial robotics problem to solve without needing legs, most legged robotics are generally unable to climb stairs anyway making the point of their existence largely moot. I could probably spit off about 5 cheaper solutions to climb stairs without legs and I don't even work in robotics.
Product costing several thousands of dollars shouldn't be less useful than this $500 kit: