In a keyhole view of what the future looks like, Japan’s oldest department store chain Mitsukoshi, “hired” a humanoid robot, ChihiraAico, for the first time. “She” is a receptionist at the store, dressed in traditional kimono and welcoming customers with a polite smile…
In the Hollywood blockbuster I, Robot, set in the year 2035, humanoid robots serve humanity. A twisty, unpredictable plot sees robots turn hostile and embark on a mission to dominate human race with their strength and technical prowess. The movie may seem far-fetched but humanoid robots are becoming a reality as technology advances rapidly.
A humanoid robot is, according to definition, a robot with its body shape built to resemble a human body. Besides the research, humanoid robots are being developed to perform human tasks like personal assistance, where they should be able to assist the sick and elderly, and dirty or monotonous jobs. They are becoming increasingly popular for providing entertainment too.
URSULA, a female robot, sings, play music, dances, and speaks to her audiences at Universal Studios. TOPIO, a male robot, can play table tennis against a human. Every TOPIO uses an advanced artificial intelligence system to learn and continuously improve its skill level while playing.
ChihiraAico can smile, sing and she never gets bored with welcoming customers to her upmarket shop. “My name is ChihiraAico. How do you do?” she says in Japanese, blinking and nodding to customers in the foyer of Mitsukoshi, Japan’s oldest department store chain.
Clad in an elegant traditional kimono, ChihiraAico — a name that sounds similar to a regular Japanese woman’s name — breaks into a rosy-lipped smile as would-be shoppers approach.
Unlike her real-life counterparts — almost always young women — who welcome customers to shops like this, ChihiraAico cannot answer questions, but simply runs through her pre-recorded spiel.
The android, with lifelike skin and almost (but not quite) natural-looking movements, was developed by microwaves-to-power stations conglomerate Toshiba, and unveiled at a tech fair in Japan last year.
“We are aiming to develop a robot that can gradually do what a human does,” said Hitoshi Tokuda, chief specialist at Toshiba.
“The standard of customer service in this Mitsukoshi flagship store is top quality and this is a great opportunity to see what role our humanoid can play in this kind of environment.”
The humanoid is not the first robot to begin customer service in Japan — the wisecracking Pepper, a 4-foot-tall (120 cm) machine with a plastic body perched on rollers, sells coffee machines and mobile phones.