Translation of articles in Berlingske Tidende, 21.11.2004
Robot as support and talking partner
Androide. You can easily become emotionally related to a human robot. This is
the opinion of the leading robot researcher Mr. Hiroshi Kobayashi, who has
created the reception lady Saya.
By Lars Henrik Aagaard
Tokyo: Tokyo’s center of science has a reception lady no nobody else. Her name is
Saya. She is smiling, kind and talking – and then she is a robot.
According to her creator, professor Hiroshi Kobayashi, a robot like Saya can become
a perfect receptionist at institutions and libraries.
She can also become a good support in the daily lives of elder and handicapped
“With Saya they would have someone to talk with, someone who could show
understanding and give them a better life. You can easily become emotionally related
to an android”, he says to Berlingske Tidende.
According to the professor the secret is Saya’s human look and register of feelings.
Just like real human beings she changes the expression of her face according to the
way she is spoken to. She has six ways of expression: surprise, anger, fear, happiness,
disgust, and sadness.
The robot turns angry
If you insult her by saying – in Japanese – that she is unpleasant, metal arms hidden in
18 points under her “face” will change the expression of her mouth, nose, and eyes
and change her into an angry young lady. But if you say that she is beautiful and
attractive her face turns into a big smile and she replies with kind “thank you”.
Japan is ahead of any other nation within research in human robots. We say a glimpse
of this last Wednesday, when Queen Margrethe was welcomed during her visit to
Japan by the robot of Honda, the walking and talking Asimo, who gave flowers to the
Danish Queen and exchanged polite remarks.
The Japanese are less scared of the new technology than the Europeans are. In
addition the Japanese are concdrned about giving the growing elder population a
technological support with a human look in their daily life.
But as professor Kobayashi says: “From a technical point of view – the hardware - it
is not difficult to exchange a human being by an android. It is quite an other challenge
when it comes to the human mind, to create the required software.” However, he
expects that within a few years wer will see the first robots with physical and mental
skills corresponding to a child of two years.
Photo text: The reception lady Saya on Tokyo University of Science is able to show
feelings like anger, happiness, disgust, or surprise.
Quotation: You can easily become emotionally related to an android.
Hiroshi Kobayashi, professor
In the land of the rising robot
Robotland: Can you feel a close relation to a robot? If you ask Japan’s leading
experts, they say yes. Berlingske has visited the high-tech society, which spent
hugh resources on the development of human robots, the so called androids.
Text and photos: Lars Henrik Aagaard
She sits smiling like any other receptionist, feminine and obliging behind her desk in
the foyer of the university. She wears a beautiful yellow shirt with the text Saya, and
she has chosen to dye her hair in the red-brown colour, which most Japanese women
“Konnichiwa” – Japanese for “How do you do” – you say to her, and the neutral
expression of her face changes. She looks up and begins to smile, and then she replies
a hearty “konnichiwa”, which makes you feel welcome.
But there is something with her eyes. A lack of expression. And something about her
skin. Something artificial. And if you go very close, there is something strange with
look on the whole. Something scaring. As if she was the bride of Frankenstein.
Saya is an androide, a human robot, and one of the most human-looking that has ever
been made. In addition Saya is a receptionist at Tokyo Science University in Iidabashi
and a product of the creativity of the internationally recognized researcher Hiroshi
His androide has become rather famous. Not quite as known as Honda’s walking and
talking robot Asimo, that handed flowers to Queen Margrethe a few days ago and
exchanged polite phrases with her. But Asimo cannot show feelings. Saya can.
Her face can express surprise, fear, anger, happiness, disgust and sorrow. And the
feelings she shows depend on what you say to her. If you insult her by saying that she
is unpleasant, her mouth becomes tight and her eyes squeeze, so that you have no
doubt that you have hurt her feelings. She knows and can react to 300 words, and she
has 700 sentences available at her harddisc.
“But Says is far from finished”, says the only 38-years old and very relaxed professor
Kobayashi to the surprised Journalist from Denmark.
“As she is now she is outright stupid. She is not intelligent at all. The task is now to
improve her intelligence and her look, to increase her register of feelings and words
and to find out how people react to human robots”.
But when this job has been finished, then Says will – like many of her brothers and
sisters from the assemble lines of the factories – be able to invade the homes and
institutions of the Japanese, says the Japanese expert on reproduction of human facial
He imagines that in the first place a robot like Says can be used as receptionist in
museums, libraries and other public institutions. She will always be kind, will never
need a brake, and will in principle be able to answer any question, as long as the
programming of her is up to date.
But it is the intention of professor Kobayashi that in a later version she shall move
into the homes of the Japanese.
“We have a large and increasing population of elder Japanese”, he says.
For these people an android like Saya can be an enormous help in their daily life.
Saya can give them one to talk to. One who can remind them about when to take
medicine. One who can help them to communicate with the surrounding world. One
who can show understanding and give them a richer life.
Why not chose a dog or a cat?
“Of course this is a personal choice. But the expression of the face is probably the
most important part of human communication, and a dog or a cat cannot help in this
respect. A good human robot will be able to read the news for you, measure your
blood pressure, and express understanding. You can easily become emotionally
related to your android.
Why is it exactly in Japan that research in human robots is in front, and why are the
Japanese so fascinated by robots?
“It is difficult to tell. But one explanation could be that the Japanese have been fond
of animated films with robots for many years, for example the popular robot hero
Atom. The imagination of a human robot is not unfamiliar for many Japanese.”
Atom, who is known in the Western world as Astro Boy, has even given name to a
big project, which was introduced by leading researchers last year. The researchers
proposed that the Government should allocate 3 bill. DKK per year for 30 years
-totally almost 100 bill. DKK - in order to develop a human robot with the mental,
physical and emotional capacity as a child of 5-6 years. The project named Atom was
put aside, but it tells something about the level of ambitions in the big Japanese
However , professor Kobayashi thinks it is close to science-fiction to imagine an
android with the capacity of a child of 5 years.
“But in a few years we will probably see the first robot with more or less the same
mental, physical and emotional capacity as a 2-years-child. It is much more difficult
with a child of 5. In order to make a robot real human it must possess two important
capabilities: Identity and motivation. Such a robot lies 50 or 100 years into the future.
From a technical point of view – the hardware - it is not so difficult to replace a
human being by an android. It is quite an other challenge to exchange the human mind
– to make the software”, says the robot expert.
In the other end of Tokyo, in the futuristic district Odaiba research is going on
concerning the hardware. In a digital human research center on Japan institute for
higher technology and sciences, AIST, the robots H7 (human 7) and HP2 (Human
platform 2) have been created.
The robots having the same size as humans look like something from the Star Wars
films. They can walk by 2 km. per hour, grab objects, squat down and locate
themselves in the surroundings. HP2 has even been put into production. 25 copies
have been sold at a price of quite 2 mill. DKK for each. But only for other
laboratories and universities.
Similar to professor Kobayashi the senior researcher Satoshi Kagami of AIST thinks,
that there is still a long way to go, before the robots can come into practical use in the
“The other day we spent 5 hours programming a robot to be able to squat down, to
catch sight of a bottle under a table and to grab the bottle and rise again without losing
the balance. Bit our aim is to create a robot, which can be used as an errand boy. An
android, which can fetch and bring things for you. Next we think it shall be developed
to become a helper for elderly and handicapped. But there is still a long way to go”,
the senior researcher says.
But with the help of the Japanese the day will certainly come. The day, when the
androids are sitting in the sofa in our homes to in order to loaded, ready to assist us in
our daily lives. If we want them.
• A human robot developed by the Japanese professor Hiroshi Kobayashi.
• Functions as a receptionist at Tokyo Science University.
• Can react to 300 words and answer 700 different sentences.
• Depending on what you say to her she can react by a register of
expressions of her face: happiness, fear, disgust, anger, sadness and
• The facial expressions are controlled by 18 arms hidden under the skin at
the mouth, nose and eyes.
• A sensor makes it possible for her to locate the position of human being
next to her.
• She can move her head and her neck in accordance with the position of
human beings and the words being said.
• Possible jobs: receptionist in public institutions, support and talking
partner for elder and handicapped people.
HP2 and H7
• Two robots with the size of human beings developed by Digital Human
Research Center in Tokyo
• Price for each: 2.2 mill. DKK. Can control walking and moving. Can go
up and down stairs, squat down, pick up things and move by 2 km. per
• Possible jobs: Errand boy, practical support for elder and handicapped.