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Japan Counts On Baby Robot To Boost Birth Rate

Little Yotaro giggles if you tickle him. If he’s fussy, you can calm him down with a rattle. He’s like any other baby except for the fact that he’s a robot.

According to CNN, Yotaro’s creators are hoping that the baby ‘bot will boost the Japanese birth rate, which is among the world’s lowest.

“A robot can’t be human but it’s great if this robot triggers human emotions, so humans want to have their own baby,” said Hiroki Kunimura, the project leader for robot.

Kunimura and his University of Tsukuba team didn’t set out to create a robot that would address the population problem. But when they took Yotaro to robot competitions, people began asking if the robot was intended to boost the low Japanese birth rate.

“I think it’s true that young working couples have no chance to have personal contact with babies in their lives. The people who came to the robot exhibitions enjoyed touching Yotaro, like a real baby,” said Kunimura, who describes himself as Yotaro’s “daddy.”

Japan has the world’s fastest aging population, and one of the lowest birth rates. By 2050, experts estimate 40 percent of the country’s population will be over age 65.

Japan recently instituted a financial incentive for having children. The government is hoping that the $1,800 annually per child will encourage couples to procreate.

How realistic is Yotaro? According to CNN, the robot’s “emotions are pre-set in a computer program and shot onto his eerily large head with a projector.” His non-stop runny nose is really a water hose on a slow drop.

But apparently, people melt when they see him. Are there really so few babies in Japan that a low-tech robot can make people coo?

Yotaro project members have high hopes for Yotaro. They think the baby ‘bot could make a bigger impression than money. Project member Madoka Hirai told CNN that after getting to know Yotaro, she began to imagine what life with a child could be like and checking out baby clothes.

“(He) changed how I feel about babies,” she said.

One commenter pointed out that robots don’t exactly emulate the real thing. “That robot baby doesn’t cry incessantly, projectile vomit, drool, or poop its diapers on the hour,” said the poster. “These people are going to be in for quite the surprise when their real baby comes along.”

So true — not to mention that you could always exchange or upgrade a robot — or turn them off when you’re tired of taking care of them.

What do you think? Could a robot help to get the Japanese to procreate? Or is this just a far-fetched idea?

Check out Yotaro and decide for yourself. Personally, I find him a bit creepy.

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