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NTT to offer home aid service featuring talking robot

Button-eyed robot Sota can talk and communicate with smart devices around the house.

TOKYO -- Nippon Telegraph and Telephone will team with unit NTT Data to launch a new service employing a desktop robot that can talk and communicate with smart devices around the house, the Japanese companies said Tuesday.

     They plan to target elderly care facilities initially and aim to get the service up and running by March. The robot, which is called Sota and can engage in some light conversation, was developed by Osaka-based Vstone.

     In a demonstration at a news conference Tuesday, Sota was connected to a television, blood pressure monitor and other devices, creating a so-called Internet of Things network. Weighing about 1kg, the robot is portable even for the elderly. At 28cm high, it is best positioned off the ground, on a table or desk.

     The robot will likely be priced at 100,000 yen ($805). Service prices for home use are seen starting as low as several thousand yen a month.

     In the demonstration, Sota asked, "How are you?" and said "let's measure blood pressure." It continued, "Use that blood pressure monitor, and I will dim the light so you can relax." The lighting then darkened.

     The results were then displayed on a TV and tablet computer. Soto commented, "The blood pressure is a little too high. Let's cut back on sodium this month."

     Sota can also turn on air conditioners and urge someone to drink more water based on body temperature and heart rate measured via smart sensors and wearable devices.

     NTT's voice recognition and speech synthesis technologies are used to convert conversation into data on a cloud computing system, which in turn will send commands wirelessly to devices. NTT Data will develop apps and handle coordination control.

     "We hope to offer convenient services so that every household gets [a robot]," said Shintaro Watanabe, head of technological development at NTT Data.

     No other companies offer this type of service, according to Katsuhiko Kawazoe of NTT.

     The partners will solicit the cooperation of companies such as appliance and health care equipment manufacturers and information technology firms.

     SoftBank Group sells a larger talking robot, Pepper, for 198,000 yen plus monthly service charges.

     With both the NTT group and SoftBank having broad consumer bases, competition could spur growth in the home robot business. 

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