Tokyo firm spares no effort to make realistic robots

Posted at 08/02/14 5:26 PM

TOKYO - Dinosaurs, insects and even historical figures are among the beings brought to life by a Tokyo-based company specializing in robots that look, move and sound like the real thing.

In order to give its creations a high level of authenticity, KOKORO Co. in the city of Hamura, suburban Tokyo, employs experts in engineering, computer programming, and mold designing.

"We have successfully created realistic robots by examining and imagining thoroughly the ecology and environment surrounding each creature, such as what it eats or how it sounds," said Yuko Yokota, deputy general manager of KOKORO's Planning Department.

As an example, when developing a whale robot, staff observed the dissection of a whale to understand the complex structure of its muscles and bones.

The company, a division of pop cultural marketing giant Sanrio Co., best known for its Hello Kitty brand, currently produces about 30 robots each year, including a wide array of animals and people.

Among its creations is a robotic version of eminent Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi, as well as imaginary creatures such as mermaids.

Some of its robots are used by medical facilities and companies for their experiments and research, while others are on permanent exhibition at museums.

The company also exports robots to customers overseas, earning half of its revenues abroad, according to KOKORO.

Yokota said humanoid robots are the most challenging, as awkward movement can dispel the illusion of realism, even when the appearance is otherwise true to life.

To create a truly realistic humanoid, the company introduced a system to replicate complex movements of muscles around the mouth. It also uses silicone to produce parts that look like real skin, complete with visible blood vessels.

In 2005, the company produced an android that looks identical to a real person in collaboration with Osaka University. It was recognized by Guinness World Records as the first true android avatar.

The company was named "KOKORO," which means "heart" in English, as it hopes that it would become a firm that can make "a caring machine with a human's heart," according to Yokota.

"We feel a sense of achievement whenever we hear people say 'amazing' to see our robots," she said.