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December 11, 2008

Canadian builds robot daughter Aiko

By Ai Lung Nguyen - December 2008.

TECHNOLOGY - A Canadian man from Brampton has become an Internet celebrity in the last two days after his "robot daughter" was featured on the websites of two British tabloids. The tabloids initially reported that she was his girlfriend, but creator Trung Le has since corrected that. The internet buzz is so much that the website project-aiko.com is currently not available.

"She's not really my girlfriend. I have friends – I don't need to create friends," say Trung Le, explaining he is more like her father and teacher. "Aiko's a robot who can do a lot of things, and hopefully more soon."

Aiko is a 5-foot-tall robot with an hourglass figure, shiny real hair (from Japan), delicate Asian features and silicone breasts. Aiko – which means love child in Japanese – can speak about 13,000 sentences in Japanese and English (and learns new things to say every day), do algebra, trigonometry and geometry, and tell the weather in foreign cities by accessing the internet.

Aiko still needs to learn how to walk but she can move her hands, nod her head and can do push-ups, and sit-ups just like a human. She can also mimic pain and shout indignantly if touched roughly. When lightly slapped she cries out: "It's not nice to touch a girl's head. Touch your own head." Trung Le is now trying to teach her to make tea and coffee, and do simple household chores, but its difficult to fine tune the things he teaches her but she does learn given time. Walking and eventually running and jumping is on his list of things to do.
"I know it is still far out of reach to make a true android like human, but one step at a time." - Trung Le.

Inventor Trung built his first robot when he was 8, says Aiko is the result of his years of planning, calculations and hard work. He began her assembly in August of 2007 and was done two months later after costing him about $25,000. Trung Le, now 33, was born in Vietnam and grew up partly in Japan, where robots are extremely popular both in real life and in fiction/animation, including notable examples like Astro Boy.

Trung is marketing the software used to create Aiko, BRAINS (Biometric Robot Artificial Intelligence Neural System) which took years to create and is improving the software daily. The BRAINS software is a unique software which was created to control AI, speech, reading, math, vision, colors, hearing, automation, sensors, temperature, face and object recognition. Trung also hopes to create life-like mechanical limbs for disabled people that can register sensations.

This is not the first time people have built a functioning android. "Actroid" for example was built by Osaka University in Japan and features some similar functions.

Skeptics have also heckled the robot girl during public showings, with people calling her a fake and suggesting there is someone controlling her movements and voice. One elderly woman even got hostile, yelling and throwing rocks, saying Trung Le was "trying to be God and it isn't right."

So far Trung Le has taken her to a Brampton park three times and also to the Toronto International Center Exhibition in 2007. Women, in particular, have been fascinated. Some touched her breasts to feel the silicone, he said. "Most people have been very curious about her and want to know what all she can do," he said.

Trung Le's mother Kim is happy to have Aiko at home, even though she makes an unusual granddaughter. "She's like a family member now."

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