NTT AND TOYOTA BEGIN JOINT RESEARCH AIMED AT PROMOTING THE USE OF LIFESTYLE SUPPORT ROBOTS

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) have launched joint research aimed at promoting the use of partner robots that can help and co-exist in harmony with humans. The research aims to provide support in different situations that occur in day-to-day life, using AI technology (corevo®) from the NTT Group and the Human Support Robot (HSR), one of the partner robots currently being developed by Toyota.

Background

Previously, robot development focused primarily on industrial robots for use in factories and workplaces, fulfilling tasks in place of humans. However, in recent years, as witnessed in products such as robot vacuum cleaners, more attention has been given to partner robots. Partner robots operate in the home and can help with tasks such as housework, nursing and child care/development, or serving as a partner people can communicate with1.

NTT is engaging in the research and development of corevo®, which incorporates media processing technologies with world-leading levels of accuracy (the company’s voice recognition technologies being a prime example) and interaction technologies such as R-env®, so that robots and other personified agents operating on corevo® are able to understand human words and expressions, as well advanced discussions that include hand and body gestures. Through its collaboration with various manufacturers, NTT has promoted initiatives that equip robots with a variety of characteristics so they can become more integrated into human life.

Toyota meanwhile has advanced development of HSRs that are compact and lightweight, easy to operate and provide safety and peace of mind. The company intends for HSRs to operate inside the home, live together with people and support even richer lifestyles in the future. In 2015, Toyota established the HSR Developers’ Community in collaboration with a number of universities and research institutes. The community’s goal is to accelerate technological development to improve the functionality of HSRs.

1Source: 2015 White Paper on Information and Communications, Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Concrete initiatives

In this joint research effort, NTT and Toyota aim to combine their technologies and know-how and focus on communication robots incorporating corevo® and HSRs. By linking a wide range of robots and other devices, the two companies aim to promote the development of technologies that can anticipate and provide support for human activities.

In addition, they expect to create service prototypes for event halls and commercial facilities that visitors and actual customers can interact with. In so doing, they aim to verify end-user reception and the effectiveness of the prototypes, and identify any technological problems for future application. The ultimate goal is to promote the application and widespread use of partner robots that can coexist harmoniously with humans.

The respective roles of NTT and Toyota in this joint research effort are outlined below: –

  • NTT plans to provide voice recognition, dialogue control and synthetic voice technologies developed at its research laboratories that enable dialogue between humans and robots in natural language. It also plans to provide corevo®, which incorporates R-env®, a technology that enhances non-verbal interaction between humans and robots by connecting robots to other devices. At the same time, NTT will construct service prototypes and identify technological problems that may affect the use of HSRs in a variety of situations.
  • Toyota plans to provide an HSR (and its related know-how) which possess the following three basic functions essential to daily lifestyle support:
    • Pick up objects from the floor (“Pick up”)
    • Retrieve objects that are out of reach (“Retrieve”)
    • Communicate with families and care-givers (“Communicate”)

At the same time, Toyota plans to conduct field experiments necessary for verifying the technologies, end-user reception and effectiveness of HSRs, with the aim of expanding their fields of use.

Future development

Initially, service prototypes will be exhibited at the NTT booth at CEATEC JAPAN 2017, scheduled to be held at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba from 3 to 6 October 2017. Subsequently, demonstration tests will be carried out in the field, for example at robotics events and in showrooms, allowing NTT and Toyota to gauge the possibilities of robotic services centred on HSRs.

In addition, NTT expects to release the usage environments of corevo® to external parties. By expanding collaboration with other manufacturers, universities and research institutes, NTT and Toyota hope to identify and promote the technological development of functions necessary for humans and robots to coexist. The two companies aim to realise a world in which partner robots are not only intelligent, but also gentle and increasingly able to get closer to humans, encouraging them in their activities and growth.

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