TOKYO: Tourists checking out a foreign exchange bank at Tokyo's Narita International Airport on March 25 were greeted by a diminutive robot clerk, called NAO.
Built by Paris based-Aldebaran Robotics, the sleek red and white robot stands about 58cm tall (23in) in front of Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ airport store and speaks to visitors in Japanese, English or Chinese.
"As this is Narita Airport, we get a lot of overseas clients. And as we have our foreign exchange office here, the robot will be able to advise people on the day's dollar or euro rate, for example," said Norihiro Takahashi, senior manager at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, adding it can also give directions to tourists and introduce itself.
Visitors to Japan were impressed.
"It's very interesting. It looks quite nice, because we are from Europe and we aren't used to seeing such robots. They are not that common in Europe like they are in Japan so it's quite interesting," said Helfried Brunner, a visiting scientist from the Austrian Institute of Technology.
Some found the robot bizarre.
"Yeah, it's a bit weird for me because I'm not used to that, to talking to something that is not human and, yeah, we're simply not used to that," added Karin Krumphals, a graphic designer, also from Austria.
But some like Frenchman Jean-Louis Lepreux, found it quite sweet.
"This little robot seems more agreeable because it's smaller and it has eyes that move around and brighten up," he said.
The robot also attracted other airport users, and not only potential bank or foreign exchange clients. Tourist stopped by to take pictures, and curious children prodded the robot with questions.
NAO is Aldebaran's first humanoid robot but already a certified employee of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, a major Japanese retail bank and has worked at several of its bank branches across Japan. But it has now been moved to the airport to greet new visitors from overseas.
Aldebaran was acquired in 2013 by Japan's Softbank Mobile, also known for employing a robot called Pepper to greet customers at various stores across the country. — Reuters