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Software firm opens factory in disaster-hit Fukushima Pref. to make talking care robots

Fuji Computer Co. President Kazuaki Mori holds his company's care robot in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on May 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Shuji Ozaki)

NAMIE, Fukushima -- A factory to produce AI-based talking robots has opened in this Fukushima Prefecture town hit hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

    Software firm Fuji Computer Co., headquartered in distant Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, opened the factory in the town's Fujihashi industrial park. The company has renovated an existing office building and another facility on an about 5,600-square-meter plot leased from the Namie Municipal Government. Seven people, including four locals, staff the new factory.

    The robots, looking like stuffed dogs and installed with the firm's original AI software, can make simple conversation. The manufacturer envisages using the robots in places including care facilities, elderly households, and medical settings. The company is apparently making a prototype robot that looks like the town's official mascot, "Ukedon," which is described as a "rice fairy."

    During an opening ceremony on May 10, President Kazuaki Mori said, "We would like to distribute robots useful to elderly people across to the world, and make AI care robots the town's specialty." Mayor Kazuhiro Yoshida said, "As a leading-edge industry, (Fuji Computer) will contribute to the town's reconstruction."

    The Namie Municipal Government created the about 12-hectare Fujihashi industrial park on the former factory site of Namie Japan Brake Co., which left after the 2011 disasters, and has been working to attract businesses. Currently four companies, including Fuji Computer, are in the park, which is divided into seven plots.

    (Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Minamisoma Local Bureau)

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