Hordes of people flock to glimpse what the future has in store: robots as common as household appliances.

The expo features many such robots working alongside, or even in place of, humans.

The idea to showcase them was the brainchild of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). It aims to show off cutting-edge Japanese technologies now leading the world of robotics.

When entering the North Gate, visitors are encouraged to look for an “Actroid” greeting robot.

When addressed, the realistic robots that resemble women provide information using speech and gestures. They speak four languages: Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English.

Robot maker Kokoro Co. and voice-recognition company Advanced Media Inc. jointly developed the robots.

Their computer brains store about 10,000 Japanese words as sounds. When people talk to an Actroid, the computer verifies the expression against what is in its memory bank, analyzes the meaning and responds.

The voice is synthesized based on the speech of a voice actress. Sounds of individual words, vowels and consonants are combined to recreate the natural rhythms of speech, unlike a typical synthetic voice that speaks in a monotone.

Guests may also be greeted by some mechanical comedians.

When asked where the North Gate was at a March 18 preview, an Actroid evaded the tough question, and said instead: “Other staff will give you directions. Do you have other questions?”

The robots do better with simple queries, such as being asked how old they are, explains Toshihiro Shiren, director of Advanced Media’s applied-technology division.

More here.