Waseda University’s Information, Production and Systems Research Center (IPSRC), in collaboration with Kitakyushu National College of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, have created a robot capable of reading elementary-level books. The robot takes its name from Ninomiya Sontoku, a beloved 19th-century agricultural leader who managed to overcome poverty through intense study, often depicted carrying wood on his back while reading a book.
Ninomiya-kun, standing 1 meter tall and weighing 25 kg, debuted June 11th 2009 at a robot trade fair in Kitakyushu, where it demonstrated its ability by reading Japanese fairy-tales from an ordinary children’s book. The robot’s cameras can detect a vocabulary of 2,300 printed kanji, hiragana, and katakana characters, which it reads aloud via speech synthesis. Eventually the researchers hope the robot will read books to children and the elderly, but in the meantime they are working to increase the robot’s character recognition and emotive quality.
The ability to read printed material has already been implemented in KIST’s humanoid robot Mahru, as well as iRobi-Q (a household robot developed by Yujin Robotics).