Japan picks robots of the year | VailDaily.com

Japan picks robots of the year

Katsumi Kasahara/AP photoModel Miki Murakami holds mental commitment robot Paro, one of the winners of the Robot of the Year 2006 award by Japan's Economy, Trade and Industries Ministry.The $2,956 Paro, a cooing baby harp seal droid , was developed to soothe patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

TOKYO (AP) – A feeding machine and a furry, therapeutic seal ” both designed to make life easier for older people ” were among robots honored Thursday at a government-sponsored award ceremony.

The My Spoon feeding robot, which won a prize in the service category at Robot Award 2006, helps elderly or disabled people eat with a joystick-controlled swiveling arm.

My Spoon, which is already sold in Japan and Europe, doesn’t force feed: the spoon-fitted arm stops at a preprogrammed position in front of the mouth so users can bite and swallow at their leisure, according to developer Secom Co. It sells for as much as 408,100 yen ($3,454).

Another robot receiving an award in the service category was Paro, a furry seal fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers. It responds to petting by opening and closing its eyes and moving its flippers.

About 800 of the seal robots, developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science, are used for therapy in Japanese nursing homes and by autistic and handicapped children, according to the award’s Web site.

Another winning robot at the lavish Tokyo ceremony was a mammoth, automated vacuum cleaner that uses elevators to travel between floors. The wheeled robot, designed by Fuji Heavy Industries, already cleans floors at several skyscrapers in central Tokyo, the Web site said.

Robots are seen in Japan as a way to deal with a rapidly aging population and combat an impending labor shortage. The country’s population of 127 million is expected to shrink by 30 percent by 2055, with those aged 65 or older making up 40 percent of that figure, according to government forecasts released earlier this week.

The Robot Award was set up earlier this year by the Japanese government to promote research and development in the robotics industry. Ten robots won prizes out of a total of 152 entries from across Japan.

Robot Award 2006: http://www.robotaward.jp/prize/

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