June 17 (NBD) -- Reports about "robot wife" have been popping up from time to time, saying that such robot can do chores and is proficient in many languages.

The purported buying spree of such "robot wife" in Japan has garnered wide attention.

In mid-June, National Business Daily (NBD) managed to have a half-hour talk with the "protagonist" of the reports - Erica - at ATR Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories in Nara, Japan.

Erica, designed to look like a 23-year-old woman, is an intelligent conversational android developed by Japan's leading roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro and his team, considered to be the most beautiful and most human-like autonomous android in this world. 

Photo/Chen Yaolin (NBD)

In the 30-minute talk, NBD found the android can move her head and hands, communicate with people smoothly and express her feelings with the change of topics. But the topics she can discuss are limited and every talk can last only 5-10 minutes. 

"Robots like Erica are pretty expensive, beyond the purchase power of the average," Takashi Minato, researcher with ATR Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, said to NBD. "Moreover, such robots are all for research purposes, and couldn't be found on the market. So how come the buying frenzy?"

According to Minato, in Japan, intelligent robots are mostly made to orders, and prices vary in accordance with functionalities. Currently, only a handful of laboratories and companies have demand for such robots. 

"Humanoid robots haven't been brought to market for sale," Ishiguro said to NBD. "The price is too high. Even the cheapest android would cost 100,000 U.S. dollars. And the price is unlikely to go down, as mass-producing hyper-realistic skin faces enormous difficulties." 

The complicated internal structure of androids is another reason behind the high production costs, Mr. Ishiguro added. 

Apart from Erica, more than 10 other androids for different purposes are being developed at ATR Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, including child-like android ibuki and teleoperated android Telenoid. 

With regard to the question when humanoid robots can act exactly like human, Minato said understanding what people really mean is a serious challenge. Technically, the coding is complex and database-related work is also heavy. It will take a great amount of time to achieve significant breakthroughs, he remarked.  


Email: lansuying@nbd.com.cn

Editor: Lan Suying