NEC’s young genius designer, Junichi Osada, has obviously developed a close relationship with his latest baby robotic wonder that goes far beyond mechanical boundaries.

Osada has programmed PaPeRo with a startling range of human responses.

Up close, the machine responds to Osada’s voice with an appropriate smile or sigh. It also converses, delivers personal messages and, when Osada dozes off, switches off the telly.

“We’ve programmed PaPeRo to take photographs, tell us about tomorrow’s weather, provide updates on the stock market and connect to the internet,” Osada says. “He’s fairly talented.”

And that’s something of an understatement for a creation that took a squad of designers 14 years to develop at a cost of more than $10 million.

At the heart of the “bot with the lot” is a combination of IT and audio-video technology. It uses CCD cameras for eyes, has visual and voice-recognition electronics, and works out distances through a complex array of sensors.

The technology has been refined over many years of trial and error. Much of the work was done in Osada’s livingroom.

PaPeRo, an acronym for partner-type personal robot, is the face of the near future, when electronic helpers could assume most of the duties of a housekeeper, security guard, children’s companion and much more.

When Osada whispers, “Sing me a song”, the robot rolls its head and complies. The song over, Osada gently pats PaPeRo’s head and the robot’s eyes glow in response.

It is one more example that alerts us that robots are really coming, says Mike Hanlon of Gizmag, an Australian-based magazine for early technology adopters.

Another example is NEC’s PDA-based travel interpreter at Narita Airport in

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