This Robot Is Greeting Tourists in Japan
Meet Chihira Junco, a tourist greeter at a shopping mall in Tokyo. In her crisp blue button-down shirt, white blazer and pinstripe skirt, she stands in sensible pumps behind a counter in Aqua City Odaiba on Tokyo Bay, dispensing directions to local sites and shops in Japanese, Chinese and English.
She is not, however, human. Ms. Junco â if you can use an honorific for a machine â joins an incipient group of androids springing up around Japan. There are also Yumeko, a receptionist at the Hen-na Hotel, a robot-operated boutique in Nagasaki, and Matsukoloid, who appears in a popular television variety show with her human doppelgÃ¤nger, Matsuko Deluxe.
Toshiba, the electronics company, developed Chihira Junco in collaboration with technology labs at several Japanese universities. She and four other androids cost Â¥10 million (about $ 93,000) to produce, but only Ms. Junco â Chihira? â is currently out in public, while the others remain with their maker. The company said it planned to develop 1,000 more androids in 2017. By 2020, it hopes to make 10,000 a year.
At Aqua City, which is popular with tourists and where a small replica of the Statue of Liberty stands in a park near the mall entrance, visitors can tap on a screen to ask Chihira questions like âWhere are you from?â (âI was born in Mizuho-machi, Nishitama-gun in Tokyo. I now live alone in the Minato wardâ) and âWhatâs your favorite food?â (âI especially like watermelons and Japanese pearsâ).
Up close, Chiharaâs robotic arm movements give her away, as do her eyes, which blink only halfway. When she âtalks,â she looks more like someone chewing gum than speaking. During a recent rendition of âMy Heart Will Go On,â from the movie âTitanic,â her mouth barely moved and her gestures suggested a crossing guard directing traffic.
For those visitors who still long for genuine human contact, two actual human greeters stand at an information counter about 20 feet away.