Toshiba’s made a new robot that can use sign language

Toshiba has invented a robot that looks like a human and can communicate using simple gestures (like waving) and sign language. And the good news is, it’s not creepy in the slightest. Just kidding: it’s pretty creepy. The company says it’s designed to look like “a friendly young woman”, complete with a face that blinks and smiles, although the blank expression is more than a little Stepford Wives.

The prototype, which will be on display this week at CEATEC JAPAN 2014, was made with the help of Shibaura Institute of Technology, Shonan Institute of Technology, Osaka University, and aLab Inc. Toshiba’s own algorithm controls the robot’s movements, making them smooth and human-like rather than jerky and mechanical. They hope to trial their design as a receptionist or event greeter soon.

But the goal isn’t to freak people out or to replace traditionally female jobs with a robot army of shebots (at least, not yet). The idea is that it could eventually have healthcare applications, for example by allowing people with hearing difficulties to communicate with medical staff, or acting as a companion for people with dementia.

Toshiba plans to add its existing sensing and speech recognition technology to future models, and expects to have a fully-functional version by 2020. Which gives us all plenty of time to get used to the idea of chatting to robots instead of actual people (who knows? Maybe it’ll even be an improvement). In the meantime, if you’d like to see it/her in action, they’ve posted a video on YouTube (but maybe don’t watch it just before bed).

Want to read more? If you’re looking to buy a wearable or activity tracker, we’ve found the best wearables to keep you safe, but, if they’re too expensive, here are the best budget wearables and activity trackers for under £70.

If you’re not bothered by wearables at all, but still want help with keeping fit, check out our feature on 10 kitchen gadgets, tools and utensils for healthy living.

Diane Shipley