Some of you might have heard of the name Robi, the famous Singlish-speaking Robot.
Founder and CEO of Robo Garage, Professor Takahashi creates, designs, and invents unique and original humanoids (Ropid, FT, Chroino, Neon, to name a few), including robot astronaut “Kirobo”, robot smartphone “RoBoHon” and the most famous De Agostini “Robi“. His passion for the cutting edge in robotics brings him into collaborations with other leaders in the field, researchers and corporations.
At Japan Park Singapore 2018, we had a chance to speak to Prof. Tomotaka Takahashi, creator of Robi, on his ground-breaking creation of the famous robot!
Q. How did you come up with the name “Robi”?
A. We wanted to have a simple and straightforward name for the robot, but also wanted an adorable ring to it. We felt that the name “Robi” was perfect, since the sound was similar to robot, and people would immediately associate it to one.
Q. What kind of research did you have to do to programme Robi to speak Singlish?
A. Robi was first programmed to pick up Japanese speech, and from there we slowly translated his speech to Chinese first, English, and then subsequently Singlish. After settling Robi’s speech, we had to programme Robi to also be able to pick up the Singlish accent.
Q. Could you give us one phrase that Robi can say in Singlish?
Robi can say “Okay lah!”
Unfortunately, the Robi I brought with me today is a Japanese Robi so it cannot speak the Singlish phrases. But if you purchase Robi in Singapore, all of the Robots are Singlish-speaking!
Q. Tell us more about the 100Robi Event in Singapore.
A. This happened a couple of years ago. It was a mass event of 100 Robi robots dancing together. At that time, I was thinking that since we had so many Robi robots in Singapore, it would be great to have a gathering of some sort. I figured that it would also be a great chance to showcase how stable and reliable Robi can be. Actually, it was initially done before back in Japan so I wanted to do the same thing in Singapore. The thought of having people enjoy the magnificent spectacle of 100 Robi robots in sync moving together and dancing was exciting. They even did the signature Kallang Wave!
Q. Are there any particularly memorable moments or challenges when you created Robi?
I am extremely passionate when it comes to creating robots and robotics in general, so I find joy in the development of these humanoids.
Robi was especially challengingーit took almost a year alone to programme the robot and it was a rather difficult process. So when I first witnessed Robi move for the first time, it was a such a great feeling, something I cannot describe in words. It was like seeing Robi come to life.
Robi is actually a D.I.Y robot that buyers can assemble themselves. It comes in parts for the buyer to put together. I made it this way as I wanted to share with others the special satisfaction of creating a robot, developing a robot, and the joy of building a robot themselves. Because they put the robot together on their own, I want them to have a special relationship with their own Robi.
Q. Any special plans for the future or a message to the people who might be interested in Robi or your other robots?
A. One of my more notable latest works would be RoBoHon (ロボホン, a combination of the word “robot” and “phone” in Japanese) which is like a pocket robot that acts like a cellphone. I have observed that the trend nowadays is where robots are getting smaller and smaller, and things getting more compact, more customisable.
I foresee that RoBoHon will be very close to humans, giving them on-spot feedback or useful companionship. Ultimately, I want people to develop a special friendship with robots.
Professor Tomotaka Takahashi is a Research Associate Professor of The University of Tokyo, as well as a Visiting Professor of Osaka Electo-Communication University. He has appeared in TIME magazine under the “Coolest Inventions 2004” feature and Popular Science magazine for “33 persons changing the future”. He holds 3 Guinness world records for Evolta and Kirobo, and holds the title of Robo-cup world champion from 2004-2008.