Sign language performed by human-like Android
Oct. 20, 2014
by Mark Ollig

Standing confidently before a group of people, with a warm, friendly smile, she fluidly moves her arms and hands, signing the words “My name is Aiko Chihara; nice to meet you.”

Miss Aiko Chihara is a prototype communications robot (Android), with an amazing human-like appearance.

This latest state of-the-art robot was developed by Toshiba Corporation with cooperation from Osaka University’s aLab, Shonan Institute of Technology, and Shibaura Institute of Technology.

The Aiko Chihara Android was demonstrated this month during the Cutting-edge Information Technology and Electronics Comprehension Exhibition (CEATEC) event held in Japan.

It was said this Android’s “inspirational name” means: “She looks beyond the immediate horizons, and wants world peace.”

With life-like skin made of silicon, long black hair, moving, blinking eyes, and human-like hands, the Android also speaks while performing sign language.

Aiko Chihara was standing at the Toshiba exhibit booth, exchanging verbal greetings with passers-by, in addition to signing in Japanese.

The “muscles” used to convey this Android’s human facial expressions, are controlled via 15 actuators, which are small, individually-operating motors.

The extremely flexible arm and hand movements are operated using pneumatic pistons, and accurately replicate dexterous, human-like movements, as I witnessed in the demonstration video.

The total number of actuators used as joint muscles to cause movements inside the Android is 43.

The Japan Times YouTube video shows Hitoshi Tokuda of Toshiba Corporation, explaining how the company plans to incorporate technology to give their Androids “automatic response,” and to deploy them as “conversational friends with elderly people with dementia tendencies.”

In 2015, Toshiba says the Androids may be put to practical use serving as receptionists and convention attendants.

It was suggested an Android in a person’s home could be remotely linked to a doctor’s office for two-way patient-doctor interaction or “telecounseling.”

At the office clinic, the doctor’s voice, facial expressions, and arm movements are scanned and transmitted to the Android in real-time.

The Android would repeat the doctor’s speech, and emulate any facial expressions, arm, or hand gestures.

Yes, my dear readers of science fiction; the human doctor is channeling himself through the robotic Android.

The person being counseled would be seen by the doctor using the Androids’ built-in audio and video-camera – live-streaming them onto the doctor’s display device, analogous to a Skype call.

Toshiba currently has a series of Androids undergoing development, and I assume other languages will be added to their signing and vocal abilities.

It is envisioned, in the years to come, these types of human-like Androids will become so life-like, that people will become comfortable around them.

The “robot revolution” is predicted by 2020, to be a 1.2 trillion yen ($11.2 billion) industry, and is seen as a significant factor for Japan’s economic recovery.

In 10 years, I look for robotic Androids to be used in social care settings; assisting and providing companionship for people at home, patients in hospitals, and providing support in other specialty fields.

Toshiba is planning to have an advanced “intelligent social robot” completed in time to be showcased before the world, during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Robot is derived from the Czech word “robota,” meaning “compulsory labor.”

Looking back, the word robot, as we today think of it, was first mentioned in a science fiction play.

In 1920, Czech writer Karel apek wrote a play called “R.U.R.” meaning “Rossum’s Universal Robots.”

In 1922, this play was first performed in the United States in New York.

Rossum’s Universal Robots is the name of the factory where “artificial people” or automatons, called “robots,” are being built.

Towards the play’s end, the robot named Radius, who led the successful revolution against the humans, climbs atop a balcony railing and declares in measured tones to the other robots in the factory: “Robots of the world! The power of man has fallen! A new world has arisen: the Rule of the Robots! March!”

Chilling, isn’t it?

Hopefully, the advanced robotic Androids that attain self-awareness in the far-distant future, won’t attempt to take over the planet from the humans living on it.

For now, I am eager to see how Androids will be operating in the near-future, say around 2020.

Read the English-translation text of the play “R.U.R.” on the Project Gutenberg website at: http://tinyurl.com/pfs32ls.

The Japan Times uploaded a YouTube video of Aiko Chihara at: http://tinyurl.com/o64wlbo.

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