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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Tokyo previews robomates for all

"My Spoon" helps disabled people to feed themselves

By BBC Tokyo correspondent Juliet Hindell

The biggest robot show in the world has opened in Tokyo amid hopes that the industry will rebound after tough times during the Asian economic downturn.

The theme of the exhibition is man and robots evolving together, and many of the new models on show cater to Japan's ageing society.

The International Robot Exhibition is held every two years in Tokyo. This year more than 700 exhibitors are taking part.

The Asian economic crisis hit robot sales hard as factories stopped investing in new equipment.

[ image: Pleased to meet you: WAMOEBA-2, a emotional communication robot, introduces itself]
Pleased to meet you: WAMOEBA-2, a emotional communication robot, introduces itself
The vast majority of robots on show are for the industrial market and are far away from the robots of science fiction.

But this year there is also special emphasis on robots that entertain, help care for people and can work in extreme conditions.

One experimental model can pour a glass of wine and interact with guests at a party, but it does not look human.

Another more practical robot delivers meals to hospital patients - a new form of meals on wheels.

These robots are designed especially for the Japanese market where the rapidly ageing society has led to worries about who will care for the elderly. Some believe robots will be able to share some of the burden.

But the star of the show was probably the robot cat - called the Mental Commit Robot.

There has already been a very popular robot dog.

The cat responds with a purr when it is stroked and will not scratch or bite.

The inventor said it was a robot that soothes human beings.

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