Public Transportation, Robots and Androids: Tokyo, Japan
Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2017
The public transportation system here in Tokyo is the most complex and impressive I’ve ever seen. Today was my second try and I’ve gotten a grasp on the basics. There are a plethora of phone apps specifically designed for navigating the Tokyo subway system but I’ve been so impressed to find English and Chinese-speaking concierges even at the small and slow stations who are happy to assist. Once on the subway, it’s a totally enjoyable experience and everything is so spankin’ clean it’s unreal.
You could practically eat off the floors of the Tokyo subway system — everythng is so clean!
It was an easy ride on two trains from my district of Asakusa to the man-made islands of the Odaiba district in the middle of Tokyo Bay. The cost was approximately $5US one-way. The ride was scenic, crossing over the impressive Rainbow suspension Bridge. I’m amazed by the beauty of this city, the array of architectural styles, the efficiency of all systems, and the friendliness (when approached) of the people.
But enough about public transportation.
Let’s talk about robots!
I’ve always been intrigued by robots and today’s mission is to find some! I make my way to Miraikan Museum, the National Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation, and by golly, I find myself two androids and two robots. And a whole lot of other cool stuff. This science museum has excellent English signage and would be a super place to take kids. Location.
Inside Miraikan Museum
Asimo, the First Two-Legged Robot
First, I see the world-famous humanoid robot “Asimo” who was made by Honda and is perhaps old news having been invented in 2000. The latest version of Asimo can recognize up to ten human faces and call them by name, speak English and Japanese, respond to questions verbally, run 9 kilometers per hour (5.6 mph), and recognize and respond to moving objects. It was quite amazing to see him run. It was hard not to see “him” as a human in a robot costume.
I also saw Kirobo, an adorable little astronaut robot that went to the International Space Station in 2013. He was behind glass and not moving so I could only watch a video to appreciate his cuteness.
Pretty cool, and in no way disturbing. Unlike the next one.
Face to Face with Otonaroid
Upon seeing the seated woman human-like android, my lizard-brain sent shivers over my skin. This was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, conversing with the robot required an operator (this is a tele-operated android meaning the operator talks through it) and my operator was an English child in a booth. This did not provide the most convincing experience, but you get the idea in this video. I was shocked at how life-like her skin was and how many micro facial expressions she could make. If this is now, just imagine how realistic androids will be in ten years!
Unsettling. But it got worse. Or better. Depends on your perspective.
The signage in front of Telenoid says:
“What are the bare minimum, fundamental requirements for human appearance? An android with minimal appearance, the Telenoid, was created to understand this question. The minimal shape, physical contact (hugging), and its voice encourage the brain to feel and imagine the “presence” of the person you are talking to. As the way people identify with Telenoid differs from person to person, we believe that it has the potential to become a universal communication media, which transcends national boundaries, races and cultures.”
I hold Telenoid while a female operator talks through it and guides its motion. I surprise myself that as its neck turns and twists (following the movement of the operator who wears a headset), I actually try to comfort it by patting its belly and hugging it. That’s weird.
Telenoid has cameras in its eyes and what it “sees” is transmitted to the operator who can be anywhere in the world connected by internet. The operator can speak through Telenoid and control its movements. So, for example, you could give a Telenoid to your far-away children and speak to them through it. And even give them a hug. Sort of. However, the children at the exhibit didn’t want to get anywhere near this thing.
Here you can watch it resting and “breathing”…
If you happen to make it to the Miraikan Museum, don’t miss seeing a 3-D movie in the Dome Theater! I watched one about the creation of the universe and, woo-wee, it was dazzling fun to see all those sparkling stars and spinning galaxies nearly colliding with my head. I saw the birth of the universe and was reminded that everything, including us, is made of stars.