The Telenoid R1, which debuted in Osaka this week, is a minimalist humanoid robot controlled remotely via a computer-mounted camera. The Telenoid can move its head and wiggle its arms using motors in its ghostly body. Above, the robot relays a teacher's head movements and voice to a young girl during a demonstration.
Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro designed the robot to be a low-cost surrogate for teachers and social workers, allowing for remote interactions while creating the impression of a person in the room.
Photograph by Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP/Getty Images
Osaka University's Ishiguro holds the Telenoid R1 during the robot's debut on August 1.
Like a cross between a ventriloquist's dummy and a telephone, the Telenoid can project a user's voice and gestures, creating a sense of presence. You can even hug the robot while you chat—if it doesn't creep you out.
Ishiguro said he doesn't know whether culture will have an influence on people's reactions to Telenoid. "It may be uncanny," he said, referring to the so-called uncanny valley, an effect in which tiny flaws in ultrarealistic humanlike robots or animated characters actually make the androids seem repulsive.
Covered with soft silicon skin, Telenoid R1 is powered by nine electric motors. The motors, for example, allow the robot to project the voice and motions of a man talking to his granddaughter (not pictured) remotely.
Although it has a realistic face, the robot's limbs and torso were abbreviated to save on production costs. The Eager company of Japan is slated to begin selling Telenoids commercially later this year for the equivalent of about $8,000.
"People can adapt to the robot through interaction, since it has a neutral appearance," creator Ishiguro said. "It does not look like an elderly person or young child, man or woman. Therefore, the user can imagine the operator's face on the robot by hearing the voice."
Can't make it to grandpa's house? The Telenoid R1 is ready to take your place.
In a demonstration August 1, an elderly man chats with his granddaughter (seen in the background), whose movements and voice are projected through the robot via a computer connection.
With more Japanese seniors living alone and far from loved ones, the Telenoid was designed in part to help distant relatives or friends stay in touch. About the size of a child and weighing roughly 11 pounds (5 kilograms), the Telenoid can easily be cradled during conversations, enhancing the sensation that someone is present.