This Japanese roboticist envisions a future with robot companions

AllChinaTech recently talked with Tomotaka Takahashi, a robot creator and founder of Kyoto University’s ROBO GARAGE.

Inspired by the cartoon Astro Boy, Takahashi wanted to become a robotics scientist from the age of five. He started making his own robots as a university student.

Robots that Takahashi has created include “Mr. Evolta” that climbed a Grand Canyon cliff within seven hours, rescue robot “Enryu T-52” that can lift cars or other debris in the aftermath of a disaster, “Ropid” that can jump and run in a smooth and natural manner, and “Kirobo”, that acted as a Japanese-speaking companion on the international space station.

Takahashi said that the shape and form of robots will become increasingly important. “You can talk to pet, like a turtle, a rabbit… They cannot reply and we’re still willing to talk to them. But we don’t wanna talk to a square box. The difference is that we can feel life in these animals.”

However, although he believes that humanoid robots are good for communication, Takahashi seeks to explore and maintain the inherent beauty of machines. He said, “I’m not interested in creating an android that mimics human beings that much. I want to create something in between… between human and machine. Machinery has its own beauty, and at the same time, human beings have different types of beauty, and I want to combine both to create new things.”

When asked about the difference between a robot and a machine, Takahashi said that there is no clear boundary between the two, but he thinks robots are something in which we can feel life.

Initially a hobby, creating a robot to Takahashi is like creating a piece of art. He would create prototypes by himself to help people understand robots’ possibilities and potential.

Takashi’s latest project is RoBoHon, literally meaning “robot phone”. It will be introduced to the public by Takahashi and Sharp, the electronic products designer and manufacturer.

RoBoHon is like a robot smartphone. In Takahashi’s words, a cute “little buddy” that stands under 20cm tall. It is primarily controlled by voice and has a small touch screen on his back. It can make calls, receive emails, take selfies and group photos, and serve as a projector. The device will go on sale next Thursday in Japan for USD 1,800, with an extra six dollars per month for its voice recognition features.

RoBoHon (picture screened from
RoBoHon (picture screened from

“These days voice recognition is so smart, but people don’t use a voice recognition function in our daily life,” said Takahashi. Additionally, he pointed out that there is little room for innovation in the smartphone industry nowadays, with most products looking alike.

Takahashi wants to create a new era, where people live with robots like they are living with smartphones today. “I want RoBoHon to be part of our life, and to change the relationship between human and machine.” He said that once people start creating new apps for RoBoHon like they do for iPhones, a new era begins.

In terms of the differences between RoBoHon and a smartphone, he said, “Like an iPhone, I really rely on it, but I don’t actually trust my iPhone, I don’t love my iPhone. But if people start using RoBoHon, the relationship will be much closer, and because of that, we can create different types of services.”

Takahashi shared his views on the future of artificial intelligence. He thinks it is not a bad idea if AI makes choices for human beings. “Actually, I’m tired of making decisions. The worst question to me is ‘What do you wanna eat?’ … There are too many things to decide, for something we’re interested in we can decide by ourselves, but other than that, AI can do that for us.”

When it comes to the question of whether AI would become so smart that they take over the world, Takahashi believes that technology today is still far from that phase, and it’s not something we should worry about.

Machines free people from laborious tasks, robots create fun, and AI can free up time for us to do something that we truly want to do.

When you put it like that, who wouldn’t want a robot companion who can do just that?

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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