Japan Invests Millions in Robotics/AI

The following is a translation of a Japanese website by the blog Pink Tentacle: Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has set aside over 2 billion yen (US$17.4 million) in its 2007 budget to support the development of intelligent robots that rely on their own decision-making skills in the workplace. The objective of METI’s robot budget is to support the development of key artificial intelligence technology for robots over the next 5 years, with the goal of introducing intelligent robots to the market by 2015. Robots typically need to be pre-programmed with their operation patterns before they can function properly, so their applications tend to be limited and they tend not to adapt well to changes in their surroundings. Intelligent robots capable of working in tandem with humans, on the other hand, will analyze their environments based on voice and image data obtained through their sensors and adapt their behavior accordingly. METI plans to use the 2 billion yen budget to commission universities and manufacturers to research and develop artificial intelligence and voice/image recognition technology, which would be combined into commercially available robots by 2015. Examples of next-generation intelligent robots envisioned by METI include cleaning robots and security robots that only need to be shown a facility’s blueprints before they get to work. Based on this information, these robots would make their own decisions about what routes to take as they make their rounds. The cleaning robot would seek out areas that are particularly dirty and focus on cleaning those areas, while the security robot would decide for itself whether or not to report suspicious individuals it encounters during its patrol.

METI also envisions a guide robot with highly advanced voice and image processing technology that can interact smoothly with humans. Such robots would be able to speak and interact with customers in busy supermarkets, providing customers with verbal and non-verbal (pointing) instructions on how to find particular items in the store. The past 10 years has seen a rapid increase in the number of industrial robots, with an estimated 840,000 robots in operation worldwide. And with Japan’s annual robot market expected to swell to about 3 trillion yen (US$26 billion) over the next 10 years, the Japanese government sees the development of next-generation intelligent robots as a key component in its economic growth strategy.

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Japanese robot creator Hiroshi Ishiguro interacts with a humanoid he designed to look and behave exactly like himself at his laboratory in Osaka, Japan last August. AP file photo

Japanese robots enter daily life Posted 3/1/2008 12:01 PM | Comments 37 | Recommend 61 E-mail | Print |

ROBOTIC PAST

Japan's love affair with robots could be said to be more than 300 years old. Wooden wind-up dolls known as "karakuri" appeared as early as the 17th century. Especially famous is a kimono-clad tea-serving machine considered one of the world's first "robots." It carried a bowl of tea on a tray from the host to the guest, waited patiently until the guest replaced the bowl, and then returned to the host. Based on Western gun- and clockmaking technology, these robots were designed as helpers or crowd-

pleasers. That was long before Czech playwright Karel Capek's sciencefiction drama, R.U.R., introduced the word "robot" to the public at large in the early 1920s. Capek's machines are at first happy to toil as laborers for their human creators, but stage a rebellion that triggers the end of the human race. But, "In Japan, where robots are the good guys in anime or comic books, people just don't feel as threatened by robots as they do in the United States or Europe," said Brian Carlisle, president of Auburn, Calif.-based Precise Automation and former head of the U.S. Robotic Industries Association. "The Japanese accept robots, and robotics technology has the potential to enter many new kinds of applications," Carlisle said. "Naturally, the possibilities are larger here." — The Associated Press

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AP file photo

An image of a Japanese man is projected

after a 360 degree scan was made of his head to produce robot facial skin to resemble him. Japan faces a vast challenge in making the leap -commercially and culturally -- from toys, gimmicks and the experimental robots churned out by laboratories to full-blown human replacements that ordinary people can afford and use safely.

ROBOTS

Ethics: Asimov's 3 laws | Love and sex examined | Book excerpt | S. Korea prepares ethical code

At work: Mixing cancer drugs | Cheeses, wines sampled | Devices used for 'dangerous, dull or dirty' jobs | Roomba redesigned

Being human: Robot makeup | Understanding emotion | Toddler walk mimicked

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By Hiroko Tabuchi, Associated Press TOKYO — At a university lab in a Tokyo suburb, engineering students are wiring a rubbery robot face to simulate six basic expressions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust.

Hooked up to a database of words clustered by association, the robot — dubbed Kansei, or "sensibility" — responds to the word "war" by quivering in what looks like disgust and fear. It hears "love," and its pink lips smile.
PHOTO GALLERY: Japan embraces robots

"To live among people, robots need to handle complex social tasks," said project leader Junichi Takeno of Meiji University. "Robots will need to work with emotions, to understand and eventually feel them. While robots are a long way from matching human emotional complexity, the country is perhaps the closest to a future — once the stuff of science fiction — where humans and intelligent robots routinely live side by side and interact socially. Robots are already taken for granted in Japanese factories, so much so that they are sometimes welcomed on their first day at work with Shinto religious ceremonies. Robots make sushi. Robots plant rice and tend paddies. There are robots serving as receptionists, vacuuming office corridors, spoon-feeding the elderly. They serve tea, greet company guests and chatter away at public technology displays. Now start-ups are marching out robotic home helpers. They aren't all humanoid. The Paro is a furry robot seal fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers, designed to comfort the lonely, opening and closing its eyes and moving its flippers. For Japan, the robotics revolution is an imperative. With more than a fifth of the population 65 or older, the country is banking on robots to replenish the workforce and care for the elderly. In the past several years, the government has funded a plethora of robotics-related efforts, including some $42 million for the first phase of a humanoid robotics project, and $10 million a year between 2006 and 2010 to develop key robot technologies. The government estimates the industry could surge from about $5.2 billion in 2006 to $26 billion in 2010 and nearly $70 billion by 2025.

Besides financial and technological power, the robot wave is favored by the Japanese mind-set as well. Robots have long been portrayed as friendly helpers in Japanese popular culture, a far cry from the often rebellious and violent machines that often inhabit Western science fiction. This is, after all, the country that invented Tamagotchi, the handheld mechanical pets that captivated the children of the world. Japanese are also more accepting of robots because the native Shinto religion often blurs boundaries between the animate and inanimate, experts say. To the Japanese psyche, the idea of a humanoid robot with feelings doesn't feel as creepy — or as threatening — as it might do in other cultures. Still, Japan faces a vast challenge in making the leap — commercially and culturally — from toys, gimmicks and the experimental robots churned out by labs like Takeno's to full-blown human replacements that ordinary people can afford and use safely. "People are still asking whether people really want robots running around their homes, and folding their clothes," said Damian Thong, senior technology analyst at Macquarie Bank in Tokyo. "But then again, Japan's the only country in the world where everyone has an electric toilet," he said. "We could be looking at a robotics revolution." That revolution has been going on quietly for some time. Japan is already an industrial robot powerhouse. Over 370,000 robots worked at factories across Japan in 2005, about 40% of the global total and 32 robots for every 1,000 Japanese manufacturing employees, according to a recent report by Macquarie, which had no numbers from subsequent years. And they won't be claiming overtime or drawing pensions when they're retired. "The cost of machinery is going down, while labor costs are rising," said Eimei Onaga, CEO of Innovation Matrix Inc., a company that distributes Japanese robotics technology in the U.S. "Soon, robots could even replace low-cost workers at small firms, greatly boosting productivity." That's just what the Japanese government has been counting on. A 2007 national technology roadmap by the Trade Ministry calls for 1 million industrial robots to be installed throughout the country by 2025. A single robot can replace about 10 employees, the roadmap assumes — meaning Japan's future million-robot army of workers could take the place of 10 million humans. That's about 15% of the current workforce. "Robots are the cornerstone of Japan's international competitiveness," Shunichi Uchiyama, the Trade Ministry's chief of manufacturing industry policy, said at a recent seminar. "We expect robotics technology to enter even more sectors going forward." Meanwhile, localities looking to boost regional industry clusters have seized on robotics technology as

a way to spur advances in other fields. Robotic technology is used to build more complex cars, for instance, and surgical equipment. The logical next step is robots in everyday life. At a hospital in Aizu Wakamatsu, 190 miles north of Tokyo, a child-sized white and blue robot wheels across the floor, guiding patients to and from the outpatients' surgery area. The robot, made by start-up Tmsk, sports perky catlike ears, recites simple greetings, and uses sensors to detect and warn people in the way. It helpfully prints out maps of the hospital, and even checks the state of patients' arteries. The Aizu Chuo Hospital spent about some $557,000 installing three of the robots in its waiting rooms to test patients' reactions. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, said spokesman Naoya Narita. "We feel this is a good division of labor. Robots won't ever become doctors, but they can be guides and receptionists," Narita said. Still, the wheeled machines hadn't won over all seniors crowding the hospital waiting room on a weekday morning. "It just told us to get out of the way!" huffed wheelchair-bound Hiroshi Asami, 81. "It's a robot. It's the one who should get out my way." "I prefer dealing with real people," he said. Another roadblock is money. For all its research, Japan has yet to come up with a commercially successful consumer robot. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. failed to sell even one of its pricey toddler-sized Wakamaru robots, launched in 2003 as domestic helpers. Though initially popular, Sony Corp. pulled the plug on its robot dog, Aibo, in 2006, just seven years after its launch. With a price tag of a whopping $2,000, Aibo never managed to break into the mass market. One of the only commercially successful consumer robots so far is made by an American company, iRobot Corp. The Roomba vacuum cleaner robot is self-propelled and can clean rooms without supervision. "We can pretty much make anything, but we have to ask, what are people actually going to buy?" said iRobot CEO Helen Greiner. The company has sold 2.5 million Roombas — which retail for as little as $120 — since the line was launched in 2002. Still, with the correct approach, robots could provide a wealth of consumer goods, Greiner stressed at

a recent convention. Sure enough, Japanese makers are catching on, launching low-cost robots like Tomy's $300 i-Sobot, a toy-like hobby robot that comes with 17 motors, can recognize spoken words and can be remotecontrolled. Sony is also trying to learn from past mistakes, launching a much cheaper $350 rolling speaker robot last year that built on its robotics technology. "What we need now isn't the ultimate humanoid robot," said Kyoji Takenaka, the head of the industrywide Robot Business Promotion Council. "Engineers need to remember that the key to developing robots isn't in the lab, but in everyday life." Still, some of the most eye-catching developments in robotics are coming out of Japan's labs. Researchers at Osaka University, for instance, are developing a robot to better understand child development. The "Child-Robot with Biomimetic Body" is designed to mimic the motions of a toddler. It responds to sounds, and sensors in its eyes can see and react to people. It wiggles, changes facial expressions, and makes gurgling sounds. The team leader, Minoru Asada, is working on artificial intelligence software that would allow the child to "learn" as it progresses. "Right now, it only goes, 'Ah, ah.' But as we develop its learning function, we hope it can start saying more complex sentences and moving on its own will," Asada said. "Next-generation robots need to be able to learn and develop themselves." For Hiroshi Ishiguro, also at Osaka University, the key is to make robots that look like human beings. His Geminoid robot looks uncannily like himself — down to the black, wiry hair and slight tan. "In the end, we don't want to interact with machines or computers. We want to interact with technology in a human way so it's natural and valid to try to make robots look like us," he said. "One day, they will live among us," Ishiguro said. "Then you'd have to ask me: 'Are you human? Or a robot?"'
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Robots and Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) is arguably the most exciting field in robotics. It's certainly the most controversial: Everybody agrees that a robot can work in an assembly line, but there's no consensus on whether a robot can ever be intelligent. Like the term "robot" itself, artificial intelligence is hard to define. Ultimate AI would be a recreation of the human thought process -- a man-made machine with our intellectual abilities. This would include the ability to learn just about anything, the ability to reason, the ability to use language and the ability to formulate original ideas. Roboticists are nowhere near achieving this level of artificial intelligence, but they have made a lot of progress with more limited AI. Today's AI machines can replicate some specific elements of intellectual ability. Computers can already solve problems in limited realms. The basic idea of AI problemsolving is very simple, though its execution is complicated. First, the AI robot or computer gathers facts about a situation through sensors or human input. The computer

compares this information to stored data and decides what the information signifies. The computer runs through various possible actions and predicts which action will be most successful based on the collected information. Of course, the computer can only solve problems it's programmed to solve -- it doesn't have any generalized analytical ability. Chess computers are one example of this sort of machine. Some modern robots also have the ability to learn in a limited capacity. Learning robots recognize if a certain action (moving its legs in a certain way, for instance) achieved a desired result (navigating an obstacle). The robot stores this information and attempts the successful action the next time it encounters the same situation. Again, modern computers can only do this in very limited situations. They can't absorb any sort of information like a human can. Some robots can learn by mimicking human actions. In Japan, roboticists have taught a robot to dance by demonstrating the moves themselves. Some robots can interact socially. Kismet, a robot at M.I.T's Artificial Intelligence Lab, recognizes human body language and voice inflection and responds appropriately. Kismet's creators are interested in how humans and babies interact, based only on tone of speech and visual cue. This low-level interaction could be the foundation of a humanlike learning system. Kismet and other humanoid robots at the M.I.T. AI Lab operate using an unconventional control structure. Instead of directing every action using a central computer, the robots control lower-level actions with lower-level computers. The program's director, Rodney Brooks, believes this is a more accurate model of human intelligence. We do most things automatically; we don't decide to do them at the highest level of consciousness. The real challenge of AI is to understand how natural intelligence works. Developing AI isn't like building an artificial heart -- scientists don't have a simple, concrete model to work from. We do know that the brain contains billions and billions of neurons, and that we think and learn by establishing electrical connections between different neurons. But we don't know exactly how all of these connections add up to higher reasoning, or even low-level operations. The complex circuitry seems incomprehensible. Because of this, AI research is largely theoretical. Scientists hypothesize on how and why we learn and think, and they experiment with their ideas using robots. Brooks and his team focus on humanoid robots because they feel that being able to experience the world like a human is essential to developing human-like intelligence. It also makes it easier for people to interact with the robots, which potentially makes it easier for the robot to learn. Just as physical robotic design is a handy tool for understanding animal and human anatomy, AI research is useful for understanding how natural intelligence works. For some roboticists, this insight is the ultimate goal of designing robots. Others envision a world where we live side by side with intelligent machines and use a variety of lesser robots for manual labor, health care and communication. A number of robotics experts predict that robotic evolution will ultimately turn us into cyborgs -- humans integrated

with machines. Conceivably, people in the future could load their minds into a sturdy robot and live for thousands of years! In any case, robots will certainly play a larger role in our daily lives in the future. In the coming decades, robots will gradually move out of the industrial and scientific worlds and into daily life, in the same way that computers spread to the home in the 1980s. The best way to understand robots is to look at specific designs. The links on the next page will show you a variety of robot projects around the world.

Slightly unnerving: the Japanese Toddler Robot
by Andi

Robotics and AI have evolved a lot recently. Japanese scientists have unveiled a robot that merges these two technologies to create a mechanic toddler. It‟s called the CB2 or “Child-robot with Biomimetic Body”. Though it‟s designed to emanate „child-like charm‟, I think it‟s quite freaky. Strange or not, the technology behind it are pretty advanced, and it shows quite a lot of potential for future improvements. Instead of slow, typically robotic responses and movements, we see quick and natural squirming, much like a baby‟s. The robot is designed with an AI that allows it to act much like a 1-2 year-old baby. It has natural reactions to stimuli, recognizes objects, sounds and has an advanced tactile system.

For the quick and natural movements, traditional servos have been replaced with 56 pneumatic „muscles‟. The sheer count allows for natural motion, while the system gives them speed. The not-so-cool part is the need for air tubes, so the robot isn‟t completely autonomous. It has microphones for eyes and two cameras for eyes. The eyes also move rapidly and track what‟s happening around. Additionally, it has 197 tactile sensors that allow it to react to touch. Its creators are interested in commiting a lot of their time in order to teach it how to walk or talk, and also to raise its intelligence to the level of a 3-year old. Here‟s a video of the 33 kg-heavy and 130 cm-tall robot in action. What do you think about it? Cute or creepy?

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