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December 02, 2004

Snuggling Ifbot Sensei

A new robot developed to help elderly Japanese from going senile may soon be teaching English to their grandchildren. The 45cm Snuggling Ifbot, which bears a passing resemblance to Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear, was developed by Nagoya-based high-tech venture Business Design Laboratory Co. It is programmed with the Japanese conversational ability of a five-year old, using such phrases as "It is a fine autumn day," by detecting the season from its internal clock, or "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

"This robot has in its memory several million patterns of word phrases that it uses when spoken to," said Takao Ohsuga, senior executive at Dream Supply, a Nagoya-based IT firm which developed the product's software. Makers plan to program the robot in English -- not for export, but to teach the language to Japanese children. In addition to chatting, Ifbot can sing songs, play quiz games and inquire about its owner's health. Snuggling Ifbot went on sale yesterday for ¥604,800 or it can be rented from Dream Supply for ¥16,800 a month.

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