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Saturday June 7, 2014 MYT 6:25:00 PM
Saturday June 7, 2014 MYT 9:47:38 AM
by teppei kasai AND yoshiyasu shida
A Japanese company has announced plans to begin selling Pepper, a ‘human-like robot’ for personal use, starting next year — as a way to address the needs of the country’s rapidly growing elderly population.
Announcing the news of June 5, Japan’s SoftBank Corp said it envisions the robots to address labour shortages in one of the world’s fastest ageing societies. The robots, it added, could potentially serve as baby-sitters, nurses, emergency medical workers or even party companions.
Available from Feb 2015 onwards for ¥198,000 (RM6,212), Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told a news conference that the robots are capable of learning and expressing emotions. Accompanting Son to the briefing, the sleek waist-high robot named Pepper spoke to reporters in a high-pitched, boyish voice.
“People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions,” Son said. The robots will use cloud computing to share data that can develop their own emotional capabilities. Son assured that they would not share an owner’s personal information.
The robots were developed by French robotics company Aldebaran, in which SoftBank took a stake in 2012, and will be manufactured by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd. A prototype will be deployed this week, serving customers at SoftBank mobile phone stores in Japan, Son added.
Japan’s population is one of the most rapidly ageing in the world and the government hopes companies can offset a decline in the labour force by utilising robotics. Personal or household robots, such as the Asimo robot that Honda Motor Co has been developing for more than a decade, are seen as potential elderly care providers.
Meanwhile, Panasonic Corp and robotics research subsidiary ActiveLink Co Ltd also recently showcased robotic suits and vests to assist in arduous manual tasks such as carrying heavy loads or picking fruit from trees.
Japan’s overall robotics market was worth about ¥860bil in 2012 and is forecast to more than triple in value to ¥2.85tril by 2020, according to a trade ministry report last year. A draft government growth strategy obtained by Reuters calls for a “robotic revolution” that would increase the use of robots by 20-fold in agriculture and double in manufacturing. – Reuters
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