This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.
On July 1, Telenoid Planning was established in Kyoto with support from Nippon Venture Capital (NVCC) of Tokyo. During a press conference held on July 13 in Tokyo to unveil the project in full, the market prospects for the service being launched utilizing a small robot were explored. At the center of this endeavor is a legless automaton called Telenoid developed by Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, Osaka University professor and an Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) Fellow simultaneously heading his namesake research laboratories there specializing in “life-support” robotics.
NVCC President Shuichi Okuhara, who also heads up the 4.7-billion-yen Keihanna ATR Fund backing the project, outlined the relations between NVCC and ATR, which is located also in Kyoto in an area known as “Keihanna” but holds many intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the fields of robotics, information science and telecommunications that may be monetized. ATR, represented in the new company by a Dr. Toshikazu Sakano acting as the auditor, will next year celebrate its 30th anniversary. The Telenoid is the first in a series of IPRs from ATR to be used in product development with the Fund’s backing through June of 2024.
President Akio Kamiyama, of Shibuya-based Cocolomi offering “conversational eldercare” and alert service, will concurrently serve as president of Telenoid Planning – in fact, the tiny tot-like product is in the main a remotely-controlled terminal which requires an operator “on the other side” to hold conversations with the users; thus the network of operators availed by Cocolomi will be offered as a service bundled with Telenoid. The markets targeted will be the elderly in particular those suffering from senility not to mention other people who may have mental problems. The price is yet to be set at this time.
Telenoid emanates from the Geminoid project under which Dr. Ishiguro made a “robot copy” of himself as part of his Humanoid Robotics Interface aimed at use in public information dissemination, language inculcation and eldercare in terms of both physical as well as mental assistance. Unfortunately the Geminoid had some issues upon reception such as having too much “character modality” or appearing like a “moving corpse.” It was therefore decided that in order to lower the stress entailed, the robot would be “stripped of features” and made “colorless” as it were. Testing at multiple daycare sites in Japan and Denmark proved that acceptance of the “voice-only” figure with minimal head and limb movement was much better.
Telenoid, although at first glance seems a bit pallid, is laden with sensors so it can check the condition of the user, in addition to having a “constant gaze that looks to one earnestly” which soon helps endear itself with the user, lending itself to being a neutral bridge between the cyber and real worlds. It seems that many users are able to project the image onto the bland “colorless” face in line with the soothing voice accompanying the robot and end up adding a positive image onto the little doll. The company certainly hopes the service will be a hit, and looks to produce “new friends for humanity” in the not-too-distant future.