Telepresence robot is the stuff of nightmares

You might think that a Caspar the Ghost lookalike would make a pretty poor substitute for a beloved grandchild or trusted doctor, but Japanese robotics researchers are betting otherwise.

A team from at Osaka University and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) have developed a new portable teleoperated android robot, Telenoid R1, designed to mimic thegestures as well as voice of a telephone caller.

Movements of the head, face and arms are transmitted from sensors on the caller’s body to the robot using the team’s AvatarNT software.

About three feet high, it weighs around 11 pounds and looks decidedly spooky, with stubby arms and an attenuated body.

Similar robots have in the past had a more realistic appearance – or else looked like an overgrown vacuum cleaner.

But the Telenoid R1’s developers reckon that their version is more versatile, as it can stand in for more or less anybody, with a “soft and pleasant skin texture and small, child-like body size”.

“One can easily recognize the Telenoid as a human while the Telenoid appear as both male and female, as both old and young,” they say.

The idea is for the robot to be used in the home, particularly by old people. It’s expected to sell for about $34,000 for research purposes, or about $8,000 for domestic use, and should be available next year.