The Japanese government sponsored the Robot Awards 2006 in order to promote research and development in the robotics industry. They winner? A robotic seal. The furry sea mammal is used for therapy with the elderly as well as autistic and handicapped children. It responds to petting (thanks to sensors beneath its fur and whiskers), flutters its eyes, moves its flippers, coos like a real baby harp seal and responds when called. Named Paro, the seal robot was developed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science to help the labour force in nursing homes with the augmenting percent of elderly in the country. Lastly, a giant vacuum cleaner for offices and a feeding machine, also aimed at the elderly, received prizes at the ceremony in Tokyo.
News source: BBC News