Toshiba unveils trilingual robot in Odaiba


Staff Writer

Toshiba Corp. unveiled a new multilingual android Friday who introduces herself and gives out information in three languages to tourists visiting Tokyo’s popular Odaiba waterfront district.

Making her debut at an information center located inside Aqua City Odaiba commercial complex was a female lifelike robot named ChihiraJunco, who converses in Japanese, English and Chinese.

“I am honored to be your guide for Aqua City Odaiba,” ChihiraJunco said in British-accented English. “I am going through training right now until Nov. 6, and starting in December, I will be here to help you navigate through this Odaiba area.”

During the two-week demonstration that began Friday, ChihiraJunco will give presentations about herself and introduce a number of shops and restaurants in the commercial complex as well as about events taking place in the area.

ChihiraJunco spends about 10 minutes talking in each of the three languages in rotation, blinking constantly and using body language.

ChihiraJunco is the younger sister of ChihiraAico, a similar android also developed by Toshiba who debuted last year.

There are two main differences between Junco and Aico, according to Hitoshi Tokuda, the head of Toshiba’s robot development project.

He said Junco is able to speak one more language — Chinese — than Aico, and her movements are much smoother.

Tokuda said visitors need to wait a bit longer before they can begin to ask questions.

“We would like to see how many visitors come to see the robot and what kind of reactions they have when seeing the android” to receive feedback before Junco goes full-time, which is planned from mid-December at the same location.

From then on, ChihiraJunco will answer certain questions from visitors verbally in the three languages, according to Tokuda.

Visitors are expected to make inquiries through a touch-screen installation next to her from a list of questions set beforehand, such as locations of restaurants and directions to popular tourist spots, he said.

In the future, the firm wants to have Chihira and other similar androids learn to respond directly to visitors’ questions as much as possible, not ones that have been prepared in advance, Tokuda noted.

He also said the firm plans to produce three more Chihira-like androids by the end of March so that they can be utilized at many more places and events.

Some visitors to Aqua City Odaiba who happened to meet ChihiraJunco on Friday voiced surprise but at the same time welcomed the android.

A 30-year-old designer from Indonesia who only identified herself by her first name, Jessy, and who is on her honeymoon to Japan with her husband, described the android as “creepy.”

“I think it’s a bit creepy. Because in a way, from afar, it looks like real,” she said. “It’s a bit stiff, so it’s like a mannequin, a talking mannequin.”

But she also gave positive marks to the android, saying the robot is a “pretty interesting attraction” as it is something new.

Meanwhile, tourist Masako Tanami, a company worker in her late 50s from Ibaraki Prefecture, said a quick look at the android gave her the impression that the robot is a real human being.

She hailed the android, saying Japan should promote advanced technology more through such demonstrations.

Tokuda said the firm wants to advertise Japan’s technology by showcasing the android at Odaiba, which has become a popular destination for international tourists.

He said the firm plans to add more foreign languages to the android’s repertoire, adding that Korean will be introduced as quickly as possible in light of the many travelers coming from South Korea.

Furthermore, Tokuda noted the company is eyeing exporting such androids possessing multilingual skills abroad.

“We have had inquiries from abroad and people in Europe have noted the robot,” Tokuda said. “Hopefully, this project will be a model case, which could contribute to multilingual support abroad.”

  • FunkyB

    The technology is impressive, but is there any net advantage of having an “android” for a guide instead of a real person? It will be interesting to see how these andrioids develop in the not-so-distant future.

  • FunkyB

    The technology is impressive, but is there any net advantage of having an “android” for a guide instead of a real person? It will be interesting to see how these andrioids develop in the not-so-distant future.

  • KenjiAd

    What’s wrong with Toshiba engineers? “She” is so creepy, totally unapproachable. They should have used a friendly anime character, or at least Gundam or something.