Late last year, a Chinese theme park landed itself in hot water after it erected a statue that copied Japan’s famous Gundam robot. Now a Chinese technology company called UNIS and JUST GOOD Technology Co. Ltd. has copied the look of a real Japanese robot. The company’s flagship product, ILU-ROBO is nearly identical to NEC’s PaPeRo except the speakers have been moved to the side to make room for an LCD screen on its chest. It appeared at a Chinese High-Tech Expo in May where it earned some awards, including “China’s Own Innovative Cutting-Edge Product”. The company says they will sell two models retailing for 2980 and 3980 Chinese Yuan ($460~$615 USD) – available online here.
The company is calling ILU-ROBO an “excellent home preschool robot” that can teach your kids English and good manners. It features edutainment capabilities aimed at early childhood education, and spoke a tongue twister for the amusement of the crowd. It uses 10 separate artificial intelligence modules including speech recognition, and connects to the internet wirelessly allowing for remote monitoring applications and more.
Like PaPeRo, it has LEDs in its mouth region and touch sensors which allow it to respond when you pat it on the head. However, upon further inspection it appears to be missing some key components: namely, the stereoscopic CCD cameras that give PaPeRo its vision (that’s a big one); microphones positioned for optimum sound detection; the ultrasonic sensors used for obstacle detection; and the TV remote control signal transmitter from atop its head (see here). It seems likely an additional sensor for detecting the floor and a lift sensor are also missing, but it’s hard to tell from the photos.
The company began an R&D division specifically dedicated to intelligent robotics in 2006, partnering with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Society of Education among other institutions to develop artificial intelligence, speech recognition, sensors, and interactive software and games.
This is not China’s only household robot designed for kids (see also Family Nanny Robot and Home Education Robot). NEC’s robot has been copied before – compare it to iRobiQ and Qbo. However, ILU-ROBO is certainly the most egregious example so we have contacted NEC and will update with their response. UPDATE 2011.06.24 NEC says their marketing group is concerned and are considering their legal options.