The world's largest robotics show, the International Robot Exhibition, was held in the Tokyo Big Sight complex from 30 November through 3 December 2005. The event, which has taken place every other year since 1973, this year showcased robots from 152 companies and 40 organizations, featuring more than 800 booths, which displayed everything from manufacturing robots to humanoids.
One recent trend at the show, known as IREX 2005, is the increasing number of robots designed for purposes other than manufacturing, including those built to perform medical, welfare, cleaning, and security jobs. For that reason, the biggest part of the exhibition was dedicated to robots specializing in service functions.
Overall, the exhibition was a fantastic success. I'll introduce you to two of the hits of the show. What were the criteria for my selections? As a roboticist, I am not easily impressed with just a couple of entertaining tricks. I had two main criteria: What is really new in the world of robotics, and what is really functional, ready-to-use, and not just a toy?
Here's my top pick: The Actroid, from Kokoro Co. and Advanced Media, of Tokyo [see photos, "Almost Human" and "Expressive Features"].
Close-up of Actroid robot.
The Actroid was the robot that left visitors breathless. Amazingly lifelike, this office robot has been designed as an android "bearing a striking resemblance to a woman," with a command of four languages. (Its technical rationale is to promote the joint venture's ongoing work to fulfill the objectives of the "System Development Toward Practical Use" guidelines of the NEDO 2004 Next-Generation Robot Commercialization Project.)
The Actroid speaks Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean. It can interactively converse with visitors on various subjects, including information about the exhibition, in a synthetic but realistic voice. It's amazing appearance is so perfectly analogous to humans that, I believe, most people would not notice the difference between this robot and a human from a distance of 20 to 30 meters. It is capable of controlling its motions expressively within the context of a conversation just as a human being does--with facial expressions, lip movements, and behavior. The face of the Actroid has 42 degrees of freedom. The robot is static, however; it can not move.