Japanese Company Rents Robot as Temp Worker

It can greet people, show DVDs and hand out balloons. "Ubiko," a robot-on-wheels with a catlike face, is joining the crew of temporary workers that a Japanese job-referral company hopes will be used at stores, events and even weddings.

Next month, the 113 centimeter-tall (44 inch-tall) robot will be selling mobile phones at a store, said Akiko Sakurai, a spokeswoman at the company, Ubiquitous Exchange.

Ubiko can be hired as a temporary worker for two hours for 105,000 yen (US$890; euro690). "We see this as serious business. There are jobs that robots are better at," Sakurai said Wednesday. "People do develop an attachment with the robot, and it's lovable."

The 30 million yen (US$255,000; euro200,000) Ubiko, which comes mounted with a camera and infared sensors, greets customers with a nasal electronic voice, shows DVDs with the projector in its head and hands out balloons and other goods with wireless remote-controllable metallic arms, she said.

Ubiko is short for "ubiquitous computing" and "ubiquitous company," but also sounds like a Japanese female name, which often end with "ko."

Tmsuk, the Japanese manufacturer that made the robot, sold three last month to a hospital, where they are working as full-time, rather than temporary, receptionists and guides, said company spokeswoman Rie Sudo.

One of the robots at the hospital, which serves as a reception, has a touch-panel on its body, and visitors can use it to get directions for where they want to go, and has been programmed to greet visitors.

"Just give it electricity, and a robot can work for long hours, even doing repetitive work, and you don't have to worry about labor laws," Sudo said.

Japan's declining birth rate means that in coming years it could face a labor shortage, and some experts believe that robots could be part of the answer in resolving that problem.


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