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Household bot makes theatrical debut

Tuesday marked the theatrical debut for the Wakamaru bot, which appeared onstage in Japan alongside real-life actors.

Wakamaru onstage
A Wakamaru robot, named Momoko for a performance at Japan's Osaka University, appears onstage alongside actress Minako Inoue. AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno

The Wakamaru is best known as a domestic robot that can greet guests and provide information like weather forecasts. But soon, it may be signing autographs and being trailed by paparazzi.

Tuesday marked the theatrical debut for the bot, which appeared onstage alongside real-life actors in a play that's being hailed as a first in robot-human artistic collaboration. Hataraku Watashi ("I, Worker"), by playwright Oriza Hirata, focuses on a couple who own two housekeeping robots, one of which loses its motivation to work.

The 20-minute production took place at Japan's Osaka University--where Hirata is also a visiting professor at the Center of the Study of Communication-Design--and was performed for the media ahead of a possible full-scale public run in the next year or so. Hirata and the rest of the project team wrote special software that lets the robots move and deliver the right lines.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industry created the bright yellow Wakamaru, which is designed in the shape of a human being, stands 3 feet tall, and weighs about 66 pounds. It made its debut in 2005, selling for a little more than $14,000.

The robot is primarily meant as a companion for seniors and the disabled. It uses a laser and cameras to track and identify people, and recognizes approximately 10,000 words necessary for daily life. Now it can add thespian to its resume.