First International Symposium on
30th - 31st January 2004, Villa Nobel, Sanremo, Italy

Humanoid Robotics and Japanese History, Religion and Society

Atsuo Takanishi
Department of Mechanical Engineering & Humanoid Robotics Institute
Waseda University
3-4-1 Ookubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169-8555, Japan

Waseda University has been one of the leading research sites on anthropomorphic robot research since the late Prof. Ichiro Kato and his colleagues started the WABOT (WAseda roBOT) Project and produced the historically first humanoid robots WABOT-1 that could bipedal-walk in 1973 and the musician robot WABOT-2 that could play the electric organ in 1984.

By constructing anthropomorphic/humanoid robots that functions and behaves like a human, we are attempting to develop a design method of a humanoid robot having human friendliness to coexist with humans naturally, as well as to scientifically build not only the physical model of a human but also the mental model of it from the engineering view point. Even though the total amount of sales is still small, applied fields of robots are gradually spreading from the manufacturing/secondary industry to the others in recent years.

One can now easily expect that introduction of robots will diffuse/expand to the first and the third industrial fields as one of the important machines in human society in the 21st century. There raises strong anticipation in Japan that robots for the personal use will coexist with humans and will provide supports, such as the assistance for the housework, care of the aged or the physically handicapped, while Japan is the fastest aging society in the world. Consequently, researchers in robotics have been treated humanoid robots as a research tool for human science, an entertainment robot, or an assistant for human in the human living environment.

Based upon the concept mentioned above, the speaker and his colleagues have been doing researches on humanoid robots, such as the Biped Walking Robots as WL(Waseda Leg) series and WABIAN(WAseda BIpedal humANoid) series, Mastication Robots as WJ(Waseda Jaw) series, Flute Player Robots as WF(Waseda Flutist) series, Emotion Expression Robots(Waseda Eye) series, Speech Production Robots as WT(Waseda Talker) series, etc.

The speaker has been experiencing a big difference in social acceptability of humanoid robots between Japan/Asian countries and Western countries possibly affected by the difference of their cultural and religious backgrounds. It is easy to expect that the differences eventually will affect the ethical aspect of robot related design, control and laws, etc. between the two regions. The speaker would like to show his thoughts about it in the symposium.

Draft 18th Jan '04