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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 14:39 GMT
Robo-cat makes purrfect companion

Techno-puss finds her feet

By Anne Lavery

Robo-dog make way for robo-cat. Furry feline robot 'Tama' is Japanese company Omron's answer to the popular Sony robot dog Aibo which went on sale last year.

Tama is a step closer to the real McCoy. She interacts with her owner, needs love and attention and will develop her own specific personality. Just like a real cat Tama has emotions, purrs when stroked and sleeps whenever she wants.

Toshihiro Tashima, Tama's creator, says that the robot is the by-product of company research aimed at improving the interface between man and machine.

Microphones embedded in the cat's head enable her to recognise her own name and react by turning her head and blinking coyly. The goal was to create as realistic a cat as possible so Tama doesn't respond to commands but to the tone of your voice.

By measuring the volume of your words she can tell where you are and how happy or annoyed you feel.

Paws for thought

Pressure sensors - similar to those used in Omron's automatic blood pressure machines - under Tama's fur make up a central nervous system. The more she's stroked the happier she is, but mistreating her with a smack will meet with an angry hiss.

Omron Tama develops her own personality
Using real cat sounds Tama can display the six basic animal emotions of satisfaction, anger, uneasiness, dislike, fear and surprise.

Tama's reactions are not just automatic responses. All the information she picks up is fed into a sophisticated computer program which stores knowledge gained in her long-term memory.

Little by little her behaviour and emotions change and develop into a unique personality. But play with her too much and you'll wear her out - Tama's batteries only keep her going for one hour.

Omron stress that while Sony's robot dog is marketed as a toy, Tama's interactive personality trait gears her towards uses such as pet therapy.

Tama goes on sale in Japan in November and company officials say they hope to undercut Sony's hefty 1200 price tag. However, those in need of a little robotic pet therapy in Britain may have to wait a while; Omron has not yet decided whether to market Tama overseas.

Aibo: Pricey, but happy to play rough

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See also:
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Robo-Roo helps crash safety
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The rise of the robots

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