On Thursday -- shortly before the Japanese government released new statistics showing the nation's centenarian population has reached an all-time high of more than 40,000 -- researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) unveiled a new humanoid robot designed to lead the elderly in physical exercises.

Taizou exercise instructor robot --
Taizo (built by AIST, General Robotix and Ibaraki Prefectural Health Plaza)

Dressed in a velvety space suit and sporting a goofy grin, the 70-centimeter (28-in) tall robot, named "Taizo" (a play on the word "taisou," which means "calisthenics"), has a friendly appearance designed to motivate elderly people to engage in more physical exercise.

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With 26 joints in its body, the 7-kilogram (15-lb) mechanical exercise instructor can smoothly demonstrate around 30 different moves for others to imitate. Although Taizo does most of its exercises while sitting in a special chair, it can also stand up to perform some activities.

Taizou exercise instructor robot --

Taizo can operate for about two hours on a single charge, and it has very basic language skills -- enough to understand simple spoken commands and lead a group in exercise.

The developers plan to start selling (and renting) the robots next year for around 800,000 yen (approx. $8,000) each.

[Sources: Sankei, Robot Watch, AIST]