Monday, May 09, 2005

Osaka Robot Mecca?

Osaka is quickly becoming the robot capital of the world
Japan has emerged as a leading maker of `next-generation' robots, or those that can act independently to perform complex tasks in various different areas

By Justin McCurry
Sunday, May 08, 2005,Page 12

During Japan's "lost decade" of economic decline, Osaka was a leader in homelessness, unemployment, bag snatching and groping on trains. Now the port city is pinning its hopes on a 39cm-tall humanoid with an eye on the goal of achieving a more worthy reputation -- that of robot capital of the world.

Weighing in at just 2.4kg, VisiON is the product of Team Osaka, which consists of researchers at Osaka University, two robot firms and an aircraft parts manufacturer.

The investment quickly paid off. VisiON, which uses an omni-directional sensor to give it instantaneous 360-degree visibility, won the humanoid category at last year's Robot World Cup football finals in Lisbon.

VisiON's creators say his skills will be honed before the next tournament, in July in Osaka, when he will be up against robots from 35 countries. Their aim is to put together a team of robots capable of beating the human world football champions by 2050. For now, though, VisiON and other second-generation robots are an integral part of Osaka's efforts to rescue a local economy whose traditional industries and businesses are struggling to find their post-recession feet.

Osaka spent ?150 million on robot development in 2004, two-thirds of which went on opening a laboratory in central Osaka at the end of last year. Now occupying a floor high above the busy Umeda district, the lab will form a major part of a 24-hectare plot of land north of Osaka's main railway station that will be developed over the next few years.

Local officials hope that Robo City will be a place where robot developers worldwide can take their ideas, however crazy, knowing that they will be given a fair hearing and, perhaps, see their brainstorms turned into hardware. "In a few years, Osaka will be the Silicon Valley of the robot industry," Ishiguro said.

Although a fully domesticated robot is about 40 years away, Ishiguro said: "It will be only several years before you can have a system that can call you on your mobile and ask you what time you'll be home, what you want for dinner, whether you want a bath. It'll be just like having a wife."

Taipei Times - archives: "invigilating "


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