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Legislator in Tokyo unveils avatar robot for use in remote meetings

The avatar robot "OriHime" engages in a meeting as it is remotely controlled by Masaaki Taira, a member of the House of Representatives, in Tokyo's Ota Ward on Aug. 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Tateno)

TOKYO -- A House of Representatives legislator unveiled a trial run of an avatar robot for possible use in telework and communications by people with severe physical disabilities, among other activities.

Masaaki Taira, a lower house member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, remotely controlled the robot named OriHime on Aug. 6 from his office in Tokyo's Nagatacho district to have it discuss local activities with his secretary, who was at another office in the capital's Ota Ward, about 13 kilometers away.

OriHime can communicate with others on behalf of the user while being remotely controlled via the internet to move its camera-equipped face and hands. If a computer equipped with sensors is employed, the user can tap their eye movements to create sentences and have the text read aloud with a board displayed on the screen.

Yasuhiko Funago, an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patient who was elected to the House of Councillors in the July 21 election on the ticket of Reiwa Shinsengumi, has suggested his willingness to utilize the avatar robot in the Diet in the future. The upper house is currently looking into allowing the use of the robot in the chamber.

"It would be nice if legislators can pose questions at Diet committee meetings without coming to the Diet building," Taira said.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Tateno, Political News Department)

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