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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 10:41 GMT
Robotic baby seal wins top award
Paro, robot seal
Robots are looked on as a solution to Japan's ageing population
A furry robotic seal used for therapy in nursing homes has been honoured by the Japanese government.

Paro is fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers that allow it to respond to petting.

The robot mammal, which flutters its eyes and moves its flippers, won the service prize at the government sponsored Robot Awards 2006.

A giant vacuum cleaner and a feeding machine also received prizes at the ceremony in Tokyo.

The awards were set up earlier this year by the Japanese government to promote research and development in the robotics industry.

Aging population

Robots are widely used in Japan and are seen as a way to help deal with an aging population.

Nearly 19% of the 130 million people that live in the country are aged 65 and over. This is expected to rise to 40% by 2055.

My Spoon robot

Robots could be key to maintaining the labour force and helping care for the elderly.

The Paro robot was developed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science for therapy sessions in care homes. It is also used by autistic and handicapped children.

Like more traditional animal therapy, where pets are brought into hospitals, the robots are used to help people relax and exercise.

As well as responding to touch through tactile sensors on its body, Paro responds to its name and coos like a real baby harp seal.

Other robots to aid the elderly included the My Spoon feeding robot. The joystick-controlled arm helps people feed themselves.

The spoon tipped device follows pre-programmed movements to move food from a plate to a position just in front of the user's mouth. It is already on sale in Japan and Europe.

Other robots to be honoured at the ceremony included a huge autonomous vacuum cleaner that moves around Tokyo skyscrapers at night, clearing up after office workers.

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