AsimoJapan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has set aside over 2 billion yen (US$17.4 million) in its 2007 budget to support the development of intelligent robots that rely on their own decision-making skills in the workplace. The objective of METI's robot budget is to support the development of key artificial intelligence technology for robots over the next 5 years, with the goal of introducing intelligent robots to the market by 2015.

Robots typically need to be pre-programmed with their operation patterns before they can function properly, so their applications tend to be limited and they tend not to adapt well to changes in their surroundings. Intelligent robots capable of working in tandem with humans, on the other hand, will analyze their environments based on voice and image data obtained through their sensors and adapt their behavior accordingly.

METI plans to use the 2 billion yen budget to commission universities and manufacturers to research and develop artificial intelligence and voice/image recognition technology, which would be combined into commercially available robots by 2015.

Examples of next-generation intelligent robots envisioned by METI include cleaning robots and security robots that only need to be shown a facility's blueprints before they get to work. Based on this information, these robots would make their own decisions about what routes to take as they make their rounds. The cleaning robot would seek out areas that are particularly dirty and focus on cleaning those areas, while the security robot would decide for itself whether or not to report suspicious individuals it encounters during its patrol.

METI also envisions a guide robot with highly advanced voice and image processing technology that can interact smoothly with humans. Such robots would be able to speak and interact with customers in busy supermarkets, providing customers with verbal and non-verbal (pointing) instructions on how to find particular items in the store.

The past 10 years has seen a rapid increase in the number of industrial robots, with an estimated 840,000 robots in operation worldwide. And with Japan's annual robot market expected to swell to about 3 trillion yen (US$26 billion) over the next 10 years, the Japanese government sees the development of next-generation intelligent robots as a key component in its economic growth strategy.

Sayonara, dumb robots.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]