Humanoid robot signs with rubbery hands

PCWorld | Oct 5, 2014

Aiko Chihara is welcoming guests at Toshiba's booth at Ceatec outside Tokyo and can communicate in sign language.

Aiko Chihara is welcoming guests at Toshiba's booth at Ceatec outside Tokyo, but take a closer look. She's not human, but what the company calls a communication android. The humanoid robot can perform sign language and is the result of a number of organizations collaborating on the technology.

Hitoshi Tokuda
Group Manager, Business Development, Toshiba
It's quite difficult to make a very human like movement. If you speed it too fast—it does vibrating or such. If the robot looks like a human being and does some slight, unnatural movement it makes you feel scared.

Its movements are controlled by 43 air-servo actuators. The skin of the robot is silicone and looks very lifelike, but despite the humanoid's petite size, it has unnaturally large hands. One of the things the team wants to improve is the movement of those hands to make them more natural. It also wants to make the robot react to people and even potentially use it to engage the elderly in conversation.

Aiko can't stand on her own and needs to be propped up. There are no plans to develop her lower half, but Tokuda said it might be possible to add wheels so she could roll around.

Humanoid robots like this have been shown in Japan for more than 10 years, but progress is slow and they have yet to find mainstream commercial applications.

In Chiba, Japan, Nick Barber, IDG News Service.