Paro is not the only robot trying to engage with people at an emotional level. A joint industry-academic project between the Business Design Laboratories based in Nagoya Japan, and the Department of Intelligence and Computer Science at the Nagoya Institute of Technology has resulted in Ifbot.
Ifbot attempts to communicate not through the soothing effects of movement and touch as is the case with Paro (although an attempt has been made to give the robot a pleasingly cute egg-like shape) but rather through its ability to converse. As is so often the case in Japan, the research has been spurred on by the fact that Japan's population is ageing rapidly and the robot is seen as being a possible companion for elderly people living alone. The inventors however, have wider ambitions, envisaging a time when the robot will be a part of the family unit.
In order to make communicating with Ifbot as rewarding as possible the robot has voice and face recognition abilities which allow it to recall the person it is talking to. It also has a face tracking system allowing it to keep that all-important eye contact. The robot expresses emotions using the LEDs on its face, allowing it to show up to 40 expressions. It has a vocabulary of over 10,000 words and a speaking ability similar to that of a young child. It is already on sale in Japan, retailing at around 500,000 Yen (2500 pounds).