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As everyone in the World of Speech Technology knows, Overheard/Underheard is your one-stop news headquarters for Creepy Talking Robots (CTRs). We constantly strive to deliver the latest, greatest, and creepiest developments in talking robot technology. From the super-realistic Android Repliee Q2, to the diminutive child monstrosity CB2, to the sexually charged gynoid known as Project Aiko, Overheard/Underheard has been there to meet your CTR fix.  

But this month, we’d like to step away from CTRs to bring you an important update from the related world of Creepy Listening Robots (CLRs). And for that we turn to Japan’s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), Tokai Rubber Industries, and their terrible love child: RIBA (a.k.a. Robot for Interactive Body Assistance).

Basically, RIBA is a robotic nurse that resembles a friendly— albeit appalling and nightmarishly disturbing—teddy bear  designed to lift patients in and out of beds and wheelchairs. RIBA can recognize faces, voices, and spoken commands, and has soft, padded skin to ensure patients don’t injure themselves as they flail about in a futile attempt to escape the clutches of a horrific robotic bear.

Now some connoisseurs of creepy technologies might be saying to themselves, “That is indeed creepy, but it sounds, I don’t know, vaguely familiar.” Well, that’s because it is: RIBA is the updated version of RI-MAN—RIKEN’s original lifting-terrified-patients-from-their-hospital-beds CLR. Production on RI-MAN—which had turquoise skin, a square head with a weird tumor/module where its ears should have been, beady eyes, a spike nose, and a green mohawk haircut—stopped in September 2008. RIBA is supposed to be less creepy, with a shiny, white head, reassuring teddy bear ears, and squiggly smile, but it also has the ability to process commands 15 times faster, and has a lifting capacity that is more than three times that of its predecessor. (RIBA can lift 135 pounds, while RI-MAN could handle only 40 pounds.)

Both CLRs were developed in response to a looming nursing shortage in Japan. Evidently, the developers made the switch from RI-MAN to RIBA to help put patients at ease and plan to deploy RIBA in hospitals within the next five years.  

So if you find yourself lying in a hospital bed with a huge teddy bear robot grabbing at you with pincer-like arms, attempting to deposit you into a wheelchair, remember you have speech technologies to thank. And remember we at Overheard/Underheard did our very best to warn you.

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