It has finally happened, robots have entered the service industry.Original
Greeter robot goes rental in Japan
Japanese businesses looking for an employee with tireless enthusiasm and an unrivalled work ethic can now hire robot workers for an hourly wage.
The 113-centimetre-tall bot, called "Ubiko", can welcome visitors, answer questions and carry objects. The company behind the robot is Tokyo-based Ubiquitous Exchange, which is developing Ubiko with another robotics firm, Tmsuk, based in Kitakyushu, southern Japan.
Following successful tests involving robot receptionists at a hospital in central Japan, Ubiquitous Exchange has decided to make Ubikos available for businesses to hire.
The blue and white robot has large ears and a single large video camera for an eye. It can answer simple verbal inquiries, making it suitable for use as a receptionist or a guide in airports or train stations, its makers suggest.
Henrik Hautop Lund, a robotics researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, says the decision to rent Ubiko out to employers reflects a wider change. "Ubiko is yet another example of how the service robots are becoming available for everyday life," Lund told New Scientist.
"There is currently a clear trend in both research and industry to engage in service robot development," he adds. "And we will see many other examples of service robots in the very near future."
But Lund adds that Ubiko robot may find little work outside of its native Japan, where consumers ,may be less accepting of robots in general. "It could certainly have a future in Japanese 24-hour stores," says Lund. "But, for export outside the Japanese home market, Ubiko must be developed further in terms of design and human-robot interaction."
The robot's wage demands are also unlikely to impress many prospective employers. Ubiquitous Exchange charges ¥52,500 ($445) an hour for each robot – hardly competitive compared to human helpers, even in a country with a dwindling population, such as Japan.
The company insists that Ubiko is not overpriced, however. "If we look at these robots as advertising and public relations businesses, the price is quite cheap, actually," Sakurai says, adding that twenty companies are already on the waiting-list to receive one.
Two other robot assistants, produced by Tmsuk, made their debut last month at Aizu Central Hospital in central Japan, welcoming visitors at the entrance and answering spoken inquiries. These robots can carry luggage and escort visitors and patients to their destinations.
Here is a link to Ubiko's website if you want to get a look at the robot. It has the voice of a midget on helium. Ubiko