Robot receptionist greets shoppers in Japan

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TOKYO — Robot is from the Czech word "robota," which means "forced labor."

The term was first used in K. Čapek's 1920 play "R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots" Isaac Asimov wrote about the ethics of this forced labor in several science-fiction novels. More easily remembered would be the image of Will Smith running from crazed androids in "I, Robot".

The world isn’t there yet, but it got closer when Tokyo's Mitsukoshi department store decided to install an android greeter.

"We are aiming to develop a robot that can gradually do what a human does," Toshiba's Hitoshi Tokuda told Phys.org. "The standard of customer service in this Mitsukoshi flagship store is top quality and this is a great opportunity to see what role our humanoid can play in this kind of environment."

Courtesy of Toshiba
Courtesy of Toshiba

The kimonoed android has life-like skin and 43 motors allowing it to move in several ways. Aiko Chihira won’t be able to answer any questions, but is programmed to speak Japanese, Chinese and even Japanese Sign Language, as explained by Mr. Tokuda, Toshiba's new business development division group manager in a CBC News article.

The idea of a robot greeter isn’t new to billionaire Masayoshi Son ,who owns the Softbank mobile phone company. He unveiled a different kind of robot in “Pepper” back in June 2014. Pepper isn’t meant to be mistaken for a human. It is unmistakably robotic, but it can read emotions.

"I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us and make people grow," Bruno Maisonnier, Aldebaran's founder and former CEO, told CBC News.

Pepper made its debut April 6 on TV Tokyo in a child’s program called “Oha-Sata.” The creators believe it is the first time a robot has landed a TV gig, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The robot has already appeared in TV commercials for SoftBank and is seen serving customers at some of the company’s mobile phone stores.


Kent Larson is from Phoenix, Arizona. He is has been happily married for 30 years. They have two sets of twins. He’s been teaching for 26 years and still enjoys it .His interests include writing, reading, music, and movies.

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