2015 No.16


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Japan, a Place for Relaxation and Soothing Comfort


Mechanical Engineering Adds Zest to Life

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Communication Robots on Parade

The new lineup of robots does not wait for a command from a human before moving. They offer companionship and communication. In homes and hospitals, long-term care facilities and elsewhere, cute communicating robots are brightening up people’s lives.

ROBOT 1 Pepper

Pepper is the world’s first personal robot capable of “communicating” with human-like emotions. Using a camera and sensors, it recognizes our expressions and voice tones, and then processes this information in its neural circuit network to determine and then express its own feelings. Data governing Pepper’s reactions is stored in a cloudbased, artificial intelligence (AI) databank, offering feedback on what to do next. Yes, it is just a robot, but it improves on its abilities by interacting with humans. Height approx. 128 cm; weight approx. 28 kg. (From SoftBank Corp.)

ROBOT 2 Kirobo

This communicating robot, named KIROBO, had an extended stay on the International Space Station, from August 2013 to February 2015. After passing tests to determine performance in conditions of zero gravity, noise and vibration, it hitched a ride to the space station on the unmanned space cargo transporter, KOUNOTORI 4. At the station, astronaut Wakata Koichi and KIROBO successfully tested person-robot communication in space. Performance tests including swimming, walking and jumping in space were successful. Height approx. 34 cm; weight approx. 1 kg. (From Dentsu Inc., Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology of the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage Co., Ltd., Toyota Motor Corporation)


BOCCO was developed as a way to communicate with children in the home when parents are away. Send a message to BOCCO by smartphone or other device, and BOCCO will read it aloud to the child at home. The bot’s sensors detect when doors and windows open or close, and when lights are turned on or off. Then it sends alerts to say how things are going at home. BOCCO’s design and movements are cute enough to win any kid’s heart. Height 19.5 cm; weight 220 g. (From YUKAI Engineering Inc.)


PARO looks like a baby seal, but no, it is a robot with sensors to detect light, recognize sounds and sense touch. It uses that information to “read” its surroundings and react accordingly. Equipped with artificial intelligence, it remembers its name and what to do to make its owner happy. More than 20 years of research and clinical trials have proved that interacting with PARO has a therapeutic effect on people, boosting relaxation and motivation. PARO is recognized in the United States as a medical device, and today more than 3,000 of them are in use in about 30 countries. Length approx. 57 cm; weight approx. 2.5 kg. (From the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology)

ROBOT 5 Jukusui-kun

This little bear was developed for people who suddenly stop breathing for a few moments while asleep. The disorder, called sleep apnea syndrome, makes sufferers anxious about going to sleep, but it can be relieved through a change in sleeping posture. Jukusui-kun is a bear-shaped pillow with a microphone inside to check for loud snores, and a hand sensor to measure blood oxygen levels. When breathing stops, one of the bear’s robotic paws signals it is time to turn over. A valuable piece of advice for worryfree sleep. Length 85 cm; weight 1.7 kg. (From Waseda University)


The development concept behind HOSPI-Rimo is to promote spontaneous video communication with hospital patients and long-term care facility residents. The monitor “face” facilitates remote video conversations among nurses and patients, and helps caregivers to keep an eye on residents. Relatives and friends living far away can still “visit” easily. The robot can also go where help may be needed, taking the place of a nurse, and this is expected to reduce the workload of hospital staff. Another feature: the four cameras, one each for the front, back, left and right, make it easy for HOSPI-Rimo to move about on its own while checking for obstacles, and to be operated from a remote location. Height approx. 130 cm; weight approx. 100 kg. (From Panasonic Corporation)

Murata Cheerleaders

The 10 members of Murata Manufacturing’s cheerleading team dance about on balls. One expects them to fall off their spherical bases, but subtle adjustments keep them upright. One would think they would bump into each other, but teamwork prevents that. Their job is to cheer on those watching, perking up their spirits. The performance is aided by technical advances like gyro sensors to correct tilt, and ultrasonic microphones and infrared sensors to accurately determine location. Thanks to the sensors inside the little bodies, the team brings joy to many people. Height approx. 36 cm; weight approx. 1.5 kg. (From Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd.)