Signing robot developed as chatty companion for the elderly
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.