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Japan's love for robotics is turning our world into a comic book

優しさでで世界を救えるか?Yasashisa de sekai wo sukueru ka? (Can the world be saved by kindness?)

This is the question that pops up at the end of the Japanese promotional trailer for the latest Disney release Big Hero 6 (or simply “Baymax” as it is known in Japan).

The film follows the adventures of Japanese robotics child prodigy called Hiro Hamada, his older brother Tadashi and title character Baymax, a personal healthcare robot that Tadashi has created. Even though the film was produced in the US, the Japanese have marketed the film in quite a different manner.

For example, emotional scenes and narratives have been expertly cut together to heighten the same sense of empathy and harmony that is inherent in so much of Japanese culture. It does help, of course, that Baymax itself has an incredible cute and fluffy appearance, rather akin to a character from the much-loved Studio Ghibli films.

The approachable and helpful nature of robots in Japan is not just limited to the world of fiction; it is becoming increasingly the case in reality too. Riken Japan have developed a healthcare robot in the form of a humanoid bear called RIBA which in many respects is uncannily like Disney’s doe-eyed Baymax character.

Currently, RIBA(II) is able to lift, carry and lower patients weighing up to 80kg. In the coming years, more advanced and intricate features are likely to be added to the model, but the increased productivity that RIBA offers is no doubt of great value to the medical industry.

Robotics company CYBERDYNE Inc. (which, perhaps oddly shares its name with the corporation in Terminator) have created a product known as “HAL” (Hybrid Assistive Limb). It is designed to assist normal human body movement and is particularly handy for those who are on medical rehabilitation programs.

Instead of focussing on developing wholly robotic systems, CYBERDYNE Inc. have created products within the realm of “cybernics”, a discipline which capitalises on the power to improve (but not replace) human ability through technological innovation.

HAL is a wearable device which can be attached and detached when necessary and does not strictly become a part of the user. It responds to signals transmitted from the brain to the surface of the skin, which in turn powers the body’s movement. The company’s president Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, wants HAL to be used as widely as possible to avoid labour shortages due to injury and human incapacity.

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The HAL device[/caption]

These real-life examples demonstrate that, unlike in western cultures, in Japan robots are not something that should be feared. Far from being destructive, they are perceived and marketed as being supportive and empathetic in nature.

As Japan invests more money in robotics industry, can the world really be saved by the “kindness” of machines such as these?

By Melissa Francis of Tokyoesque - a cultural insight agency linking the UK and Japanese markets. You can follow Tokyoesque on Twitter at @tokyoesque or check out the website here.