Kasuga-san with NNR-1 (print out) & SPC-101C
Speecys, a tiny Japanese company started by Tomoaki Kasuga (who formerly worked on SONY’s AIBO) has been working on small, pre-assembled bipedal robots for almost ten years, but has been hampered by the large costs involved. Last year, Kasuga-san announced his company would partner with SEGA Toys to bring a low cost entertainment robot ($250-$500 USD) with internet connectivity to the market, which sounded something like an I-Sobot on steroids. These plans seemed connected to a prototype bipedal robot called the NNR-1 that Speecys was showing around the same time, however so far nothing has materialized of either project. At this point it appears that the SEGA deal fell through.
Then in late April 2010, Speecys published a press release offering the company’s proprietary operating system (Speecys OS) as a middleware for companies interested in natural language communication agents. Speecys suggests this technology could be applied to domestic robots, home appliances, toys, reception systems, arcade and home console games, set-top boxes, vending machines, automobile equipment, and more. Basically their technology consists of face recognition, speech recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, and a database that relies on cloud computing to increase the system’s efficiency.
Besides recognizing individuals and carrying on simple conversations, the agent could also connect to the internet and verbally report news headlines, weather forecasts, pollen warnings, read from Wikipedia articles, give your daily horoscope, remind you of your schedule (such as birthdays, anniversaries, garbage pick-up) and so on. Of course, the application wouldn’t necessarily need to look anything like a robot at all, though they’ve just published a presentation video (with English subtitles) showing the system running on a modified SPC-101C (nicknamed Kotaro here):
If this looks and sounds familiar, you may recall Fuji Soft Inc.’s PALRO platform – unveiled earlier this year – which has virtually identical capabilities and is already available. While the SPC-101C has been available for years, it still costs roughly the same as PALRO (around $3000 USD), and with this latest press release, it appears Speecys has hit something of a rough patch and is looking to make good on its years of experience in the RT sector. With new devices and appliances appearing every day, strong natural language communication software could be the competitive edge products need to stand out. Speaking of SEGA, I can’t help but feel that, depending on how good the conversational skills are, this sort of A.I. could give game characters a whole new level of intelligence and interactivity.