A DISTURBING childlike android designed to look and act like a 10-year-old boy has been created by scientists in Japan.
Called Ibuki, the robot glides around on two wheels and can uses its soft, rubber face muscles to pull facial expressions and wink like a real child.
Powered by artificial intelligence, it’s designed to offer companionship to its human helper, holding their hand and engaging them in conversation.
Ibuki is the latest in a long line of robot pals. The technology has been hailed as the solution to growing rates of loneliness in developed nations.
The project was masterminded by famed robotocist Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro alongside colleagues at Osaka University.
He and his crack team of engineers published a research paper on the build in July in the journal Robotica.
Speaking to The Sun, lead author on the paper Yoshihiro Nakata described how the android’s movements were designed to give it a realistic gait.
“Ibuki is not only an autonomous android that can move on wheels, but
it is also designed to move while vibrating its upper body up and
down,” he said.
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“The upper body vibration has reproduced the upper body movement
that occurs when a person is walking.
“This specific motion allows for a more human-like expression of the android, even it moves on wheels.”
Ibuki was developed with help from the JST ERATO Ishiguro Project, which
aims to cultivate natural communication between humans and robots.
Work started on the project in 2014 and the first working prototype cost over $200,000 to develop.
That made headlines in 2018, and engineers have since added extra sensors that help it to recognise its environment.
The robot’s AI brain gives it “vision” that can apparently scan for faces and recognise objects in its surroundings.
To make it more realistic, the Japanese engineers even gave it “involuntary” motions such as blinking and small bobs of the head.
Ibuki is even capable of pulling facial expressions during conversations, including happiness, surprise, fear and contempt.
The next step involves making the robot move more realistically with the eventual goal of developing talking robots that can work alongside humans.
“We are currently working on improving the mobility mechanism and
control system of the android,” Nakata told The Sun.
“In the future, we plan to develop an android that can provide people with services such as information and navigation at commercial facilities and train stations.
“We are also challenging to see how close ibuki-human communication can be to human-human communication.”
Japan and other developed nations are currently in the midst of a loneliness epidemic among their ageing populations.
In the United States, more than one-quarter of people over age 60 live alone, according to a Pew Research Survey.
More than 43 per cent of them reported feeling lonely – even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
A number of solutions have been proposed, such as handing out robot companions and giving healthcare professionals the power to prescribe people social activities like community gardening or group art sessions.
In February, Japan appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” in an attempt to reduce loneliness and social isolation among its residents.
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In other news, Elon Musk last month claimed that Tesla is working on an android to perform “boring or dangerous tasks”.
Getting married to a robot will be considered normal by the end of the century, according to one expert.
And, a giant humanoid robot that stands a whopping 18 METRES tall has taken its first steps in Japan.
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