Era of Robot Replacement for Humans Inching Nearer

The HRP-4, a "slim athlete" robot (R) is displayed beside its previous models, the HRP-2 (L) and the HRP-3 (C) during a joint press preview by Kawada Industries and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Ibaraki prefecture on September 15, 2010. The 151-cm-high and 39-kg HRP-4 robot will help develop new working humanoids to ease a looming labour shortage in the rapidly greying nation. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

One small step for the HRP-4, one giant step for mankind?

The HRP-4, a "slim athlete" robot (R) is displayed beside its previous models, the HRP-2 (L) and the HRP-3 (C) The 151-cm-high and 39-kg HRP-4 robot will help develop new working humanoids to ease a looming labour shortage in the rapidly graying nation.
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, that might be jumping ahead of things, but the idea of humans turning menial tasks over to robotic workers is moving out of the realm of science fiction into reality. During a press conference in Japan, officials from Kawada Industries and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology took the wraps off of a robot they expect to begin selling to universities and research institutes next year.

"It is Japan's urgent task for the early 21st Century to develop robots that could carry out simple, repetitive works ... in a bid to complement the workforce in a country that is rapidly aging with fewer and fewer children," the said in a statement. The HRP-4, as the robot is called, is said to move more easily than earlier models and "can run a range of separately-developed software applications," according to the statement quoted by AFP.

The number of Japanese aged 65 and older hit a record 22.7 percent of the population last year. It was only coincidence but the unveiling of the HRP-4 came just a day after Japan announced that the number of its citizens 100 years or older rose by 4,050 in the last year to 44,449.

This is the latest development in a long-running effort by the Japanese to turn out humanoid-like robots. The country's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry began offering funds in 1998 to encourage research which would ultimately result in the development of robots that can assume responsibility for performing many of the day-to-day tasks found in an actual human living environment.

The HRP-4, a "slim athlete" robot, walks beside its previous models, the HRP-2 (2nd L), the HRP-3 (2nd R) and the HRP-4C (R) during a joint press preview by Kawada Industries and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Ibaraki prefecture on September 15, 2010. The 151-cm-high and 39-kg HRP-4 robot will help develop new working humanoids to ease a looming labour shortage in the rapidly greying nation.
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images