Engineers from Osaka University hope the lovable Wakamaru robot -- a high-tech android designed for domestic and office work by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- can breathe new life into an age-old tradition. The bug-eyed yellow robot is being prepared for participation in the dramatic Osaka Tenjin Festival, an enormous 1000-year-old event that runs through the streets and rivers of Osaka each July.
In addition to dressing the robot in a costume fit for samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune (a.k.a. "Ushiwakamaru," Wakamaru's namesake), the engineers are teaching the robot how to perform the Osaka-jime, the festival's customary rallying call and clap. Wakamaru, who will play cheerleader during the festival's boat parade on the Okawa River on July 25, will act as a modern-day version of the traditional omukae ningyo ("greeting doll") -- a type of doll that parishioners used to place on their festival boats to greet the floating Shinto shrines as they drifted past.
Professor Satoshi Kinsui, who heads the Osaka University Center for the Study of Communication-Design, says, "We hope Wakamaru can liven up the festival with a splendid performance."