Meet Toshiba’s Most Human-like Robot To Day

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At a trade fair in Berlin, Toshiba showed off the most human-like version of its robot to date. Meet Chihira Kanae, who now knows German, and has recently had its control system upgraded for smoother, more fluid motion.

Toshiba is touting Chihira as a great upgrade for the tourism industry. At Berlin’s ITB travel expo she staffed an information desk and responded to attendees’ verbal questions about the event. Chihira was first unveiled in Japan last month, and this was her first appearance outside the country.

To smooth out motion, the team at Toshiba’s research and development centre improved the air pressure system in the robot, said chief specialist Hitoshi Tokuda. Previously, unstable air pressure caused her movements to “become affected by vibrations. So, if the air flow is very precisely controlled, her movements are smoother.”

While German is a new addition, Chihira could already interpret and respond to questions in Japanese, Chinese, English, and even sign language.

“It can be combined with any kind of language processing system, so we can make her speak many other languages as well,” said Tokuda. “We have created Chihira Kanae to have a human-like appearance as people, particularly the older generation, find this look more welcoming and approachable.”

Some experts, however, are not convinced Chihira’s anthropoid appearance will work in her favour.

“As a robot, it is very good but it still has that slight look of a psycho killer,” said Professor Noel Sharkey, a roboticist at the University of Sheffield.

Moreover, making Chihira completely convincing may not even be desirable for western audiences.

“In surveys between Japan and the US, it seems that the Japanese really want robots that are indistinguishable from humans, while in the US and the West in general, people would rather know it’s a robot that they are dealing with.”