A robot plays Chinese folk song "Jasmin Flower" at Shanghai Expo.
SHANGHAI - As the tune of the famed Chinese folk song "Jasmine Flower" came to the end, the crowd clapped enthusiastically to salute the player - a humanoid robot.
"It can even play the violin!" exclaimed one visitor to the Japan Pavilion at Shanghai World Expo.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s "Partner Robot" became a superstar at the Aichi Expo in 2005. In Shanghai, it will not only entertain, but also help out with household chores.
Robots of all shapes and sizes are on display or on the job at the Shanghai Expo which opened May 1.
Over the six months it runs, one of the aims of the Expo is to showcase advanced technology, and robots that sing, cook, and collect trash, and that do expo security work.
Several 58-cm-tall humanoid robots known as "Nao" are at the France Pavilion. Others are at the exhibition "Paris - Ile de France: A River, A Territory, A Lifestyle" in the Expo's Urban Best Practice Area.
Nao, developed and manufactured by Aldebaran Robotics, a Paris-based company, can introduce its version of France to the visitors in three languages - French, English and Chinese.
Nicknamed by some visitors as "little genius," they can sing, dance and play Jazz and football, and even demonstrate the popular martial art Tai chi.
Spain built a huge animated baby robot, Miguelin, for its pavilion. The 6.5- meter-tall tot breathes, blinks, giggles, and turns its head gently from side to side, inviting curiosity.
In the Japanese Industry Pavilion, three robots climb up and down to a height of 20 meters.
Japanese engineer Tamai Hirohumi said the robots are more flexible with the special chips embedded in their joints.
"They could replace people doing dangerous work high above the ground," he said, and robots are increasingly a part of ordinary people's life. It's no longer a dream to apply these technologies in daily life," he said.
At the entrance to the crown-shaped China Pavilion, 9-year-old Tang Yaoyu from neighboring Jiangsu Province was among the lucky few to get the opportunity to talk to a robot shaped like the Expo mascot, Haibao.
"Smile, Haibao!" The boy said.
"Ha-ha-ha," the robot replied.
The Haibao robot is also good at "poem solitaire," a game during which one person says the first few lines of a poem and the other recites the remaining part. Even with five ancient Chinese poems, the boy could not defeat the robot.
More than 30 Haibao robots are deployed at Shanghai's two international airports and at the entrances to major Expo venues, the first large-scale use of robots at a public event in China, according to Expo organizers.
The 1.55-meter-tall robots have touch screens on their chests to answer inquiries about the Expo in six languages, and they can even take photos for visitors.
"Many people came to have a look when we put one Haibao robot in Zhejiang University," said Zheng Hongbo, general manager at the robotics division at Zhejiang-based Supcon Research Co. Ltd, one of the Haibao robot's key developers.
"The answer the robot gives depends on the question it is given," he said.
Over half year of training, the robot had learned 3,200 dialogues in both Chinese and English and can introduce itself in French, German, Japanese and Korean.
"If you ask what gender it is, it will answer, 'It doesn't matter'," Zheng laughed.
"With tens of millions of visitors, I believe the Expo will hasten the coming of the robot age to China, because the event is rapidly raise people's awareness about robots," he said.
The cost to produce a Haibao robot is roughly the same as a medium-priced car, according to Zheng.
"We hope we can cut the cost to around 10,000 yuan ($1,465) in the near future. The spread and popularization of robots will not be slower than that of computers," he predicted.