Take two ideas that get geeks in Japan excited – robots and female “idol” stars – put them together and you get Androidol U.
Androidol U is a life-like female android developed by Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro and collaborators. It recently debuted during a program on Niconico Live, a popular Japanese video sharing website and broadcasting platform. The android wizard himself appeared on stage alongside the robot, dressed in his trademark black jacket and pants. Watch the interaction in the video above.
Sporting a bob cut, white blouse, yellow skirt and blue tights, the pretty bot was sitting in a large hemispherical chair. It blinked and moved its mouth and other facial features in a smooth fashion thanks to air servos, which are powered by an off-stage air compressor.
“Nice to meet you. I’m U,” the machine told the audience in a silky voice that was both feminine and slightly submissive.
Over 6,400 viewers logged in and wrote nearly 3,000 comments, with the reactions scrolling by in real time on a large video screen beside and behind the robot.
The comments would have fit right in at a singles bar: “Cute!” “How tall are you?” and “How old are you?” The machine read a selection and responded.
“How old am I?” U said. “I’m 22 years old. I look young? Why thank you!”
The robot often repeated comments it had read, but at least it made some asides about the repetition. Still, it managed to pull off a fairly natural interaction with viewers.
“Androidol U is a fully autonomous conversational robot developed for Niconico Live,” said Ishiguro, who estimates the machine has about 14 degrees of freedom (DOF). “On Niconico, questions are coming as texts, therefore U does not need to recognize voices. Its 40% recognition rate is enough for Niconico. Usually, users are sending many questions at the same time, say, more than 10 questions. U can chose an easy question to answer.”
Androidol U has a more compact air servo system, better voice and body movement coordination and softer body materials compared to previous androids. Ishiguro has been creating human-like machines for more than 10 years with collaborators such as Kokoro Company and researchers at Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR).
Some of his notable works have included robots named Repliee Q1Expo, Erika and Geminoid HI-4, which is a kind of remote-operated android clone of Ishiguro himself. Ishiguro’s Telenoid, a doll-like communications robot with abbreviated limbs and other simplified body features, was introduced into a nursing home in Miyagi Prefecture north of Tokyo earlier this year. Androidol U, meanwhile, is slated to appear at a large Niconico event in April.
“Why do we use humanoids? The answer is very simple,” Ishiguro told a recent press conference in Tokyo. “Humans have brains that recognize humans. Therefore, the ideal interface for humans is humans.”
Asked about whether Japan and other countries are currently going through a robot bubble, Ishiguro said popular interest in robots gets rekindled every 10 years or so, and referred to historical examples such as the European automata of the 18th century.
“Robots are a symbol of our most advanced technologies and a dream for everybody,” he added. “If we simply define ‘human,’ it’s animal plus technology. Ninety percent of human activity is supported by technology. We are almost technology and we’re almost a kind of robot. That’s why we’re strongly interested in robots and reiterating robot booms.”