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Experimental Japanese robot serves up drinks in bid to cope with labor shortage

The autonomous robot Nyokkey is seen knocking on and opening the door to the reception room at Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Akashi Works in the city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, on Aug. 8, 2022. (Mainichi/Yasuhiro Okawa)

AKASHI, Hyogo -- A demonstration experiment in which an autonomous robot knocks on a door, opens it and delivers drinks was recently revealed by its developer Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

    Though the robot, named Nyokkey, can only open doors that it knows about at this point, the company is apparently aiming to make the robot also be able to open doors that it sees for the first time.

    Nyokkey's body is attached to a four-wheeled cart, and measures 1.5 meters tall and 75 kilograms in weight. Its neck can extend upward, to a height of about 1.9 meters. Since it handles artificial objects for use by humans, the robot is designed somewhat similar to human beings, such as having two arms, each with three fingers.

    In the demonstration experiment held at the company's Akashi Works on Aug. 8, Nyokkey moved to the front of the reception room based on the map it memorized, and recognized the position of the doorknob using sensors on its head and arms. It grabbed the doorknob with its right arm and knocked with its left arm, then advanced forward into the slightly opened space to open the door wider. After placing the tray of drinks onto its cart, the robot entered the room and said, "Here are the drinks."

    Nyokkey is expected to compensate for labor shortages due to Japan's population decline. The manufacturing industry has been active in introducing such robots, but the service industry, which accounts for almost half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), has not been so keen. Therefore, Kawasaki Heavy Industries began developing highly versatile platform robots.

    A person in charge of the development of Nyokkey said, "If you look closely, even mass-produced doors have an infinite variety of shapes. Humans intuitively understand, but it is difficult for robots to respond, and those who use robots also need to understand this."

    (Japanese original by Yasuhiro Okawa, Akashi Local Bureau)

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