November 29, 2007 / 10:05 AM / 12 years ago

Play ping-pong or feed the baby at Tokyo robot fair

TOKYO (Reuters) - Find a high-tech ping-pong pal, see an android patient twitch in pain and experience breast feeding, even if you’re a man.

A furry robotic seal called "Palo" is pictured at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo November 28, 2007. The robot seal, which can learn its name and react to touch, is designed to help elderly people avoid loneliness and develop connections with others by interacting and talking to the robot. REUTERS/Michael Caronna

Showcasing around 1,000 industrial and service robots, the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo confirmed that Japan is hooked on androids, which manufacturers are seeking to adapt to the needs of an ageing society and a sliding population.

Employees of Yamazaki Co, an educational goods company, were busy nursing four baby robots who cried and burped.

The $620 robots, imported from the United States, help teach students and soon-to-be parents how to care for infants.

“Opportunities to see kids in society are decreasing,” said Kaoru Nukui of Yamazaki Co, referring to a sharp fall-off in births that means many Japanese families have only one child.

“The way students would touch a baby would be completely different once they have looked, touched, and experienced this ‘baby’,” he added, then demonstrated how men can feel what breast feeding is like by putting a nipple-like sensor on his chest.

Nearby, a long-haired, fair-skinned female android on a dentist’s chair drew the crowds. Simroid, a $635,000 simulator was developed as a dummy patient for dental students.

“That’s painful!” Simroid said, twitching and blinking when a student pressed her teeth too hard with a tool. Her chest also rose and fell as if she was breathing.

“The previous dummies... looked obviously different from humans, so the students may have been a little careless,” said Satoshi Uzuka of the Nippon Dental University Hospital. “They’re now as tense as when treating a real patient.”

Foreign robot developers were also at the fair, keen for a slice of Japan’s $6.4 billion robotics market. The show expects to draw around 100,000 visitors in four days.

A Vietnamese ping-pong playing gizmo called Topio kept missing his shots but a demonstrator from toy company Tosy said what was more important was that Topio had made it all the way to Japan.

($1=110.11 yen)

Additional Reporting by Takanori Isshiki, editing by Miral Fahmy

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