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Toshiba robot Tokyo
Quartz/Dan Frommer
“Starbucks is on the third floor.”
UNCANNY VALLEY

Toshiba’s new humanoid will give Tokyo mall visitors information in three languages

Tokyo

Here’s one way to staff a mall information desk: A new Toshiba robot will start offering visitor information in three languages in a Tokyo shopping center next month.

Her name is Junko Chihira, and “she” has been giving a brief demo loop at the Aqua City mall in Tokyo’s Odaiba entertainment district since late October. Starting in December, she’ll be able to answer a variety of visitor questions in Japanese, English, and Mandarin—you can pick the language from a touchscreen display.

Quartz/Dan Frommer
“I’m a 26-year-old Gemini.”

Responding to spoken questions could come by 2017, according to a press release. But for now, her role is as a presenter, according to Chihira’s creator, Hitoshi Tokuda, a long-time Toshiba employee. Tokuda envisions a robot like this could eventually be useful in situations from public facilities like banks, to residential homes and retirement communities.

This is the second generation of “Chihira” robots, designed by Toshiba to look like a realistic human. Why? While a simple kiosk monitor could play the same role, this will be a bigger attention-getter. ”We want her to be loved,” Tokuda adds, noting that thousands of people have approached her during the demo.

At this stage in production, her movements aren’t totally lifelike, nor is her speech, at least in English. To reduce weight and heat, she’s powered by an air-based system, so her motion isn’t convincingly fluid. Her speech is modified from a car navigation system, and it sounds like it. (Tokuda says people have very high expectations of robots!) But the goal is to be close to perfect someday.

For now, it’s an interesting-enough technology demonstration that plays into bigger trends:

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