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Business

'Astro Boy' to return (in physical and magazine form)

Subscribers to Atom weekly will also get parts to assemble into a robot

Every week, Atom magazine will come with robot parts like these.

TOKYO -- Japanese publisher Kodansha, mobile service provider NTT Docomo and three other companies on Wednesday announced a weekly magazine that will come with robot parts.

The magazine, Atom, makes its debut on April 4.

The name comes from Osamu Tezuka's "Tetsuwan Atom" ("Astro Boy").

The final issue will be released in September 2018, when readers/hobbyists can put the finishing touches on their project.

"'Tetsuwan Atom,' which in 1963 became Japan's first TV anime series, will finally become a real robot," said Makoto Tezuka, Osamu's son and director of Tezuka Productions.

Atom the robot will stand 44cm high, about one-third the size of the fictional character. Weighing 1.4kg, he will be easy to hold.

Under his cute exterior, Atom will pack some artificial intelligence and a camera. He will be able to recognize the faces of family members and be able to talk to them on subjects they are interested in.

To accomplish this feat, Atom will make use of NTT Docomo's natural-language dialogue platform. He will access a cloud-based database when he comes across a word he has never heard before, then respond after gaining comprehension.

"The more you talk to Atom, the closer you grow to it," NTT Docomo President Kazuhiro Yoshizawa said.

Connecting Atom to the internet via a wireless local area network will make him even smarter. He will be able to tell you what nearby supermarkets and electronics stores have on sale as well as what events are coming up in your neighborhood.

Every week, subscribers will receive new parts and clear, step-by-step instructions of what to do with them. The first issue costs 830 yen ($7.33), excluding tax. It will cost 184,474 yen to subscribe to all 70 issues.

The core AI and operating system was developed by Fuji Soft. The substrate was developed by Sony spinoff Vaio.

Vaio will also put together Atoms for elderly and other consumers who find it difficult to assemble the parts on their own.

Fuji Soft President Satoyasu Sakashita said his company has put into Atom all the technology and expertise it has accumulated from making nursing care robots.

Atom debuted in 1952 in manga form. The comic books were published by Kobunsha, a unit of Kodansha. "It is a very unique robot," Kodansha President Yoshinobu Noma said, "and I hope it will be treated as a family member."

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