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'Smart doll' takes one step closer to sci-fi anime

A Tokyo-based entrepreneur is in the process of designing a "smart doll" robot that will respond to human interaction.

(Credit: Danny Choo)

A Tokyo-based entrepreneur is in the process of designing a "smart doll" robot that will respond to human interaction.

Ever wanted your very own Chobits-style persocom? You're probably going to be waiting a while, to be honest, but it looks like we're about to get a little closer.

Danny Choo, director and producer of the Culture Japan brand, has been working with robotics experts to create a miniature robotic version (NSFW) of mascot Mirai Suenaga that will be able to move in a human-life fashion and respond to human interaction.

A render of Mirai's electronics.(Credit: Danny Choo)

"There are many folks in the robot community who have been building robot dolls, but Smart Doll is different in two major areas — the robotics are completely hidden underneath the soft vinyl skin, and the unit is interactive," Choo said.

Packed inside Mirai's 60-centimetre jointed body, designed earlier this year (NSFW), will be a system of 24 servo motors to move her limbs and body, custom designed to fit inside her tiny joints, as no commercially available servo motors were small enough. It will also include sensors that respond to external stimuli — touch, ultrasound, sights, sounds and location — with the custom-designed CPU housed in her head.

At this point, the doll is about 70 per cent complete, after which the team will develop the software that controls the doll's movements and responses.

"Speech will be required to work with sensors, which detect movement so that the Smart Doll can say things like "welcome back home!" Eyes and mouth will not move! Only cute head motions," Choo said. "If I do licensed anime characters, I can ask the original voice actress to provide recordings, too. For now, however, I'm focusing 100 per cent on Mirai, which will be voiced by Utaco, who sings Sukirai."

Mirai will also be able to respond to touch — for example, a cute reaction when the user pats her head, and will have "idle" movements when she's plugged in to recharge, such as looking around the room or swinging her legs. Her power source will be a mobile battery, charged via USB, and users will be able to issue commands via an Android app.

DLC will also be available, with new packages of phrases and motions that Mirai can say and perform.

"I never thought that I'd end up in the robotics field," Choo said. "It's great, though, as there is so much to learn. Am glad to see that many seem to be excited about this project."