Friday, March 12, 2010

Japanese baby-bot with runny nose: To teach parenting skills

It giggles and wiggles its feet when you shake its rattle, but it will get cranky and cry from too much tickling: Meet Yotaro, a Japanese robot programmed to be as fickle as a real baby.

The cuddly baby-bot looks unearthly with a pair of luminous blue eyes and oversized cheeks, but engineering students are hoping it will teach young people the pleasures of parenting as Japan faces a demographic crisis.

"Yotaro is a robot with which you can experience physical contact just like with a real baby and reproduce the same feelings," said Hiroki Kunimura of Tsukuba University's robotics and behavioral sciences lab north of Tokyo.

Yotaro's face, made of soft translucent silicon with a rosy hue, is backlit by a projector connected to a computer to simulate crying, sneezing, sleeping and smiling, while a speaker can let out bursts of baby giggles.

The baby changes its facial expressions and moves its arms and legs when different parts of its face and body are touched. Physical contact is detected by sensors, and Yotaro's mood changes based on the frequency of touches.

Yotaro also simulates a runny nose, with the help of a water pump that releases body-temperature droplets of water through the nostrils.

While the baby robot has a balloon-sized head and exaggerated facial features, its inventors nonetheless hope "Yotaro could help young parents to learn about raising a baby," said research team member Masatada Muramoto.

"We came up with the idea of a baby robot because we wanted to reproduce a human being's warmth and skin colour," said Kunimura.

Hmm! Not sure if this is the way to secure the future of childbirth and the human species or at least, I'm not sure I want to be a part of it, if it does. What do you think?

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