Toshiba's new robot can speak in sign language

Toshiba has unveiled Aiko Chihira, a humanoid robot that can communicate using sign language.

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Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

The "communication android", as Toshiba is calling its creation, was unveiled this week at the Cutting-Edge IT & Electronics Comprehensive Exhibition (CEATEC), Japan, and has been designed for a maximum of movement fluidity in its hands and arms, employing 43 actuators in its joints, in order to speak in Japanese sign language.

At this point, its range is fairly limited: it can mimic simple movements, such as greetings, but the company has plans to develop the robot -- named Aiko Chihira -- into a full communications robot by 2020. This will include speech synthesis, speech recognition, robotic control and other sensors.

The end goal, the company said, is a robot that can serve as a "companion for the elderly and people with dementia, to offer telecounseling in natural speech, communicate through sign language and allow healthcare workers or family members to keep an eye on elderly people."

If the robot looks familiar, that's because it was developed in collaboration with Osaka University, which has been developing humanoid robots for some time. The university supplied Toshiba with the technology to create a robot that resembles a human being.

Shibaura Institute of Technology and Shonan Institute of Technology also assisted, contributing sensor-based motion-teaching technologies and robot driving technologies. Toshiba created the algorithm that controls and coordinates the robot's actuators.

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