Humanoid serves tea in research on living with robots

The Japanese custom of serving tea is getting futuristic in University of Tokyo research about how robots and other technology can support and blend with human life.

In a demonstration this week, a humanoid with camera eyes made by Japanese machinery maker Kawada Industries Inc. poured tea from a bottle into a cup.

Then another robot on wheels delivered the cup of tea in an experimental room, which includes sensors embedded in the floor and sofa, as well as monitor cameras on the ceiling, to simulate living with robot technology.

"A human being may be faster, but you'd have to say thank-you," said University of Tokyo professor Tomomasa Sato. "That's the best part about a robot. You don't have to feel bad about asking it to do things."

Sato believes Japan, a rapidly aging society with more than a fifth of the population 65 or older, will lead the world in designing robots to care for the elderly, sick and bedridden.

Monitoring technology, such as sensors that respond to people entering a bathroom to turn on the light, are becoming widespread in Japan.

A number of manufacturers here have developed robots, including the walking child-size Asimo from Honda Motor Co., which greets people at showrooms.

NEC Corp. has developed a smaller companion robot-on-wheels called Papero. A robot that resembles a seal has been available by order since 2004 to entertain the elderly and others in need of fuzzy companionship.

Sato says his experimental room is raising awareness about possible privacy questions when a person's movements are monitored constantly down to the smallest detail, reports AP.

When a person enters the room, sensors recognize the arrival and adjusts the room's lighting without a flick of a switch. House music of your preference will start automatically. The tea-pouring humanoid has been even programmed to do the dishes.

"There is always a risk to monitoring a person because of privacy concerns," he said. "There must be a compromise with convenience."

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