When Angelica Lim bakes macaroons, she has her own kitchen helper, Naoki. Her assistant is only good at the repetitive tasks, like sifting flour, but he makes the job more fun. Naoki is very cute, just under two feet tall. He’s white, mostly, with blue highlights, and has speakers where his ears should be. The little round circle of a mouth that gives him a surprised expression is actually a camera, and his eyes are infrared receivers and transmitters.
“I just love robots,” says Lim, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Intelligent Science and Technology at Kyoto University in Japan. She uses the robot from Aldebaran Robotics in Paris to explore how robots might express emotions and interact with people. When Lim plays the flute, Naoki (the Japanese characters of his name translate roughly to “more than a machine”) accompanies her on the theremin or the egg shaker. She believes it won’t be too many years before robotic companions share our homes and our lives.