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Sony to develop avatar robot with ANA startup

Customer service and nursing care among envisioned roles

A customer shopping from home via avatarin's avatar talks with a clerk. (Photo from company's Facebook account)

TOKYO -- Sony looks to enhance next-generation robots from avatarin, a startup launched by Japanese carrier ANA Holdings, as interest grows in remote-control machines that can take the place of humans amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Tokyo-based avatarin lets users feel like they are somewhere else by seeing through the eyes of a robot and gaining other senses from the avatar. Plans call for using Sony's artificial intelligence technology and sensors to improve the robot's ability to recognize its surroundings, which could improve automation.

The partners see the new robots being deployed in settings such as store customer service and nursing care facilities. In addition to AI and sensors, Sony will offer technology cultivated through the development of its Aibo robotic dog.

A user can operate just one robot now, but avatarin and the Japanese electronics giant may work on technology for operating multiple robots at the same time.

Robots from avatarin are already available for rental. With people asked to refrain from going out due to the coronavirus, a commercial district in Oita Prefecture offered remote-controlled shopping using an avatar for a week through May 6.

Also this month, an aquarium in Kagawa Prefecture will allow winners selected in a lottery to enjoy virtual tours by operating the avatar from their computers at home.

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