TOKYO – Robots designed to fulfill emotional and communication needs were among the highlights displayed at iREX, the world’s largest robotics which opened in Tokyo on Wednesday.
A record 612 companies from 15 countries will until Saturday be showcasing advances made in robotics, a sector usually dominated by industrial robots.
This year, the number of interactive robots designed to provide company and assistance to humans have grown significantly, 26 percent since the last edition of the International Robotics Exhibition.
This year features the most up-to-date models, such as Pocobee, a social robot designed for use with elderly people.
Designed like a Tanuki (Japanese raccoon), Pocobee is a creation of Japanese tech giant Toyota, and is equipped to capture the user’s voice and reduce other background noise, enabling it to carry out instant voice recognition and make fluent conversation, thereby assistance Japan’s increasing number of senior citizens, as well as keeping them company.
Apart from understanding the subject and context of the conversation with the help of internet functions, the robot can interpret the speaker’s emotions from their voice and can bring up memories or offer reminders about pending daily chores.
The RayTron company displayed a similar product, although aimed at a younger clientele, named Chapit, which looks like a teddy bear and is can operate appliances like the air conditions and lights, as well as hold conversations.
Products that can help disabled people are another focal point of the show, which features specialized robots capable of picking up objects and carrying them to a person with disabilities, and robotic limbs which allow people to walk again or help them rehabilitate.
Since the development of therapeutic robot Paro – shaped like a seal – over a decade ago, companies around the world have started developing devices with therapeutic aims and for assisting the rapidly aging population.
“We need to do something about this (aging) and I believe robots can fulfill the lack of human resources,” Shigeaki Yanai, general secretary of Japan Robots Association, told EFE, adding that the private sector has realized the potential of this market and was centering their businesses around it.
Yanai said that robotics was a very promising area and its use in the service sector was long overdue.
“It is true that when new technologies come, there are people who lose jobs, but at the same time changes happen in companies, they create subsidiaries which in turn offer new work opportunities,” he said, addressing concerns about loss of traditional jobs due to robots.
The other big attractions of iREX are humanoid robots such as T-HR3, the third generation of humanoids launched by Toyota, which are unveiled at the Tokyo show.
The company said that the remote-controlled robot, which mimics human movement, is capable of carrying out daily household chores, take care of the elderly and children, as well as work in factories and dangerous settings such as the scenes of disasters.