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This week’s featured article

ROY BISHOP, THE JAPAN TIMES

Child care is a hard job, but somebody, or something, has got to do it.

Japanese researchers have developed androids to meet that need. The androids, which were created by a team of education and robotics specialists at a research facility, are part of a larger system called RoHo Care. Short for Robotic Hoikujo, RoHo is being touted as a high-tech solution to the staffing crisis that forced the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to announce emergency measures this week.

At a briefing Thursday, team leader Makoto Hara introduced a “care-droid” prototype named Or-B, the core component of RoHo’s vision for day care assistance, and said it will undergo a trial run this summer before full-scale implementation in 2018.

RoHo Care facilities staffed with only four Or-B and one human supervisor could handle upward of 60 children — three times higher than the average current child-to-staff ratio.

Unlike human day care staff, the Or-B don’t suffer from mental or physical fatigue. They’ll never tire of repeating the same stories and performing the same daily tasks. Furthermore, as they can access a vast library of “Anpanman” and “Teletubbies” episodes, they can quickly defuse any temper tantrum and crying jag that might occur.

Or-B’s voice can be female, male or gender neutral. Also, its learning capabilities, coupled with the latest in artificial intelligence, will allow it to customize its care to each child.

In RoHo’s system, daily diaries will take the form of a dedicated smartphone app, and the information will be uploaded to the Motherboard, a database in the cloud.

Although Hara’s team has experimented with various appearances, a jolly blob-like character whose smile takes up most of its face achieved the greatest success rate with test subjects.

“We’ve combined elements of Barbapapa, Hiro and my grandmother,” Hara said with a smile. “Our trial runs have shown this form really resonates with children.”

The Or-B exterior is both malleable and firm, allowing it to embrace, absorb and protect. Its eyes are webcams, which will allow parents to check in on their children at any time.

First published in The Japan Times on April Fools’ Day.

Warm up

One-minute chat about robots.

Game

Collect words related to children, e.g., toy, education, future.

New words

1) tout: to praise or recommend highly; e.g., “She is being touted as a future leader.”

2) tantrum: a childish fit of bad temper; e.g., “When he doesn’t get what he wants, he throws a tantrum.”

3) resonate: to have an effect or impact on; e.g., “The film really resonated with older people.”

Guess the headline

R_ _ _ _ _ _ _ makes baby steps toward solving Japan’s child care s_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Questions

1) What problem are the new robots expected to solve?

2) When will the robots start working?

3) What child-to-staff ratio will be possible with the help of RoHo?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What is your image of child care workers?

2) Do you think RoHo would be good for Japanese society?

3) What kind of robot would you like to have?

Reference

子供は可愛いものですが、保育士の仕事の大変さと言うのはよく指摘されるところです。都心部を中心に保育園への入所を必要とする子供は増加する一方な状況下で、保育園の施設とそしてそこで子供たちの世話をする保育士がいなければ待機児童問題が解決する日は遠いままでしょう。

保育士の人員確保が難しいのであれば、”人員”ではない形で保育士を増やそうという取り組みが始まりました。子供を育てる場において人にしかでき ないことはもちろん数えきれないでしょうが、過酷だと言われる保育の現場で人間よりもロボットの方が得意とする部分もあるのかもしれません。子供 たちがロボットに育てられる日はすぐそこまで来ています。

(注)この記事はエイプリルフール(2016年4月1日)の慣例として掲載 されたジョークの記事となります。

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