SERVO 10.2017 21
USE PEPPER FOR YOUR PRIEST
In Japan, a plastic molding company called Nissei Eco (which also does funeral arrangements) is planning to introduce SoftBank's Pepper robot as a cheaper
substitute for human priests reading sutras at Buddhist funerals.
The average cost of a funeral in Japan is somewhere between two and three
million yen, according to a study done nearly a decade ago. That works out to
between $25,000 and $30,000, which is twice or even three times as expensive as
the average funeral in the United States. Like most things, much of the cost is related
to the fact that there are humans involved who you have to pay.
Of course, this is where Pepper comes in. Nissei Eco is offering the small, white,
and very shiny humanoid robot (suitably attired in the robe of a Buddhist monk) as
an optional add-on in their a la carte menu of funeral services.
Pepper can chant sutras from four major Japanese Buddhist sects; can be set up to
livestream the ceremony to anyone who can't be there in person; and appears to be able to
bow when appropriate. With a per-funeral price of just 50,000 yen (about $450), the robot
costs “significantly less than the cash offerings typically made to Buddhist priests,” according to
the Japan Times.
CRAFTY LITTLE FELLOW
Guy Hoffman (well-known for the fascinating creativity of his robot designs) has been working
on a completely new kind of social robot in a
collaboration between his lab at Cornell and Google
ZOO's creative technology team in APAC. The robot is
called Blossom. It's designed to be handmade out of
warm natural materials like wool and wood so that
every single one is a little bit different.
Blossom is not the first soft robot designed to
interact with people, and also not the first to use
materials that emphasize touch. Robots like Keepon,
Tofu and Mochi, and Romibo all encourage tactile
interaction through things like squishiness and fluffiness,
deliberately avoiding hard plastics wherever possible.
Blossom, however, is possibly the first robot to be
soft both inside and outside, using a compliant internal
structure to enable movements that give the robot a
somewhat imperfect and much more organic
Blossom's exterior is very much do-it-yourself.
Most DIY type robots rely on 3D printing, which is
usually reasonable for the sorts of people who decide
they want a DIY type. However, Blossom is designed to
be accessible and engaging for people who might be
more comfortable with traditional crafts that don't
necessarily rely on the latest technology.
As Hoffman explained, “We were asking ourselves:
‘How can we involve the whole family in building
technology for the home?’ And the idea of crafts like knitting, sewing, and traditional woodworking
Photo: Michael Suguitan