Obama Meets Japanese Robots

The president was greeted by humanoid HRP-4C and caressed Paro the robotic seal

2 min read
Obama Meets Japanese Robots

obama hrp-4c humanoid robot

President Obama meets HRP-4C, created by a team led by Dr. Kazuhito Yokoi [right] at AIST.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which this year took place in Yokohama, Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama met not only diplomats, heads of state, and world leaders—he also met several robots.

Before walking into a meeting, Obama was greeted by HRP-4C, the female humanoid robot created at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, or AIST. The android talked and gestured enthusiastically, but this time it didn’t show off its dance moves.

Next, the robotic baby seal Paro, also invented at AIST, made an appearance. Dr. Takanori Shibata, the creator of Paro, told the president that the robot is used as a therapeutical device in hospitals, and Obama gave the squealing furry creature a good caress.

obama paro therapeutic robot baby seal

Obama pets Paro the robot seal, created by Dr. Takanori Shibata [right] from AIST.

Then it was time for a ride on what appears to be the latest version of Toyota’s i-REAL personal mobility vehicle. Well, it wasn’t much of a ride. Obama drove an inch forward, but when the machine suddenly tilted back the president almost jumped out of it. “That’s what we’re going to be driving,” he quipped.

Obama is not the first U.S. president to meet a humanoid robot. In 2005, Albert HUBO, the Korean humanoid that features an Albert Einstein headshook hands with President George W. Bush, who seemed fearless despite the robot’s odd looks and a previous incident with robotic technologies. 

obama toyota i-real

Obama sits on Toyota’s i-REAL, a futuristic personal mobility vehicle.

Here’s the video showing various heads of state—Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China, Chile’s Sebastián Piñera (famous after the trapped miners incident), among others—interacting with the Japanese technologies:

Images: APEC; video: NECN

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By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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