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Play it again, Robot Sam

Dale Davies |
Toyota unveiled a robot that plays violin. In the last few years we saw a tremendous improvement in humanoid robots.

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In previous articles in the section of this site you read about electronic stuff available only in Japan and/or South Korea. Indeed, those two countries are world of their own, a world that can be described as "high-tech" heaven. (We should think of some other expression because high-tech doesn't mean the same for Japan/South Korea and the rest of us. Maybe high2.0-tech? God, I hate numbers 2 and 0 with a dot in the middle...)

Those countries are always a step of two ahead of us. And, frankly, it seems they don't care for the rest of the world. I mean, we have to wait for some nice stuff for a year, a for some there are no plans for selling across the ocean. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching their achievement and the fact that they live in 22nd century.

As a person that loves that small and big electronic stuff, robots are at the top of my favourite list. And on top of them are humanoids. A few decades ago I wondered would we ever need the three laws or robotics. It seemed to me that positron brain is centuries away but now I'm not that sure. Of course, there is a long way to go, but seeing some the most "human" robots these days, now it seems to me that we'll be needing those laws sooner than we think.

Research laboratories from around the world are working on different kinds of robots for some time now, but it seems that the most exciting things happen in silence, away from the eyes of the reporters. Take, for an example, Toyota Motor Corp. One would expect them to build motors or something that has a motor in it. But, Toyota sees its future in robotics.

The last week we saw two new robots, one playing violin and the other dubbed as "mobility robot". To strengthen their appearance, Toyota officials said the number of robot engineers will double over the course of three years; that robots will be helping people in hospitals, homes and at work; and that company will build a new factory. All with a one goal: To make robotics a core business by 2020.

And there was a special guest to confirm that. From behind the curtain a new humanoid stepped in. It is 152 cm tall (for our American friend, that's 5 ft), it has two legs and play violin. Toyota's new robot plays remarkably well. It is not Paganini, but it is better than some of the players I heard before. The point of playing violin is not l'art pour l’art; it is a proof of hand mobility. To press string correctly, to play a tune correctly and to coordinates two hands is very hard task, even for human. For a robot it really is an achievement. The new generation of robots will need ability to control their arms and hand because they will help people in everyday tasks. And it would be nice to have a robot in da house that crashes everything it holds.

The people that will have robots live, yes, in Japan. The main concern of Japan government is the number of older people so they're trying to engage universities and companies to devise robots that will help older people. After seeing the achievement in past few years it is obvious that real looking, real-behaving robot will be in their homes soon. And what about the rest of us? Should we move to Japan?

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