There are industry gatherings for all sectors, and that includes the funeral sector. It's not an area where you'd expect to find many tech products, but at the Tokyo International Funeral & Cemetery Show 2017 this week, all eyes were on the latest breakthrough in Buddhist priests.
Hiring a human Buddhist priest for a funeral in Japan costs around $2,200. That's very expensive, so plastic molding company Nissei Eco Co. had an idea: create a robotic Buddhist priest and undercut the real thing on price. And rather than starting from scratch, Nissei instead modified an existing robot in the form of SoftBank's Pepper robot.
As Hannah Gould, a researcher at the Japan Foundation, points out in the video above, Japan and technology have been evolving at the same time so a robot priest won't seem too weird. All Nissei had to do to modify the Pepper robot was write some software allowing it to tap the drums while it chanted.
The cost of this Buddhist Pepper robot is going to be around $450 per funeral, so just a quarter of the real priest price. I also suspect it will make less mistakes. But according to Reuters, the robot has yet to be hired for a real funeral. Unlike human priests, Pepper isn't going to be at all upset about it, though.
Before becoming a priest, SoftBank designed Pepper to be a human-shaped robot meant for day-to-day companionship capable of recognizing human emotions. Most of that functionality is probably still present in the priest models, meaning they may do well chatting with relatives of the deceased after the funeral.
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