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Originally published Monday, November 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Robot actors to make stage debut in Japanese play

Robotic technology will enter unfamiliar territory Tuesday when two humanoid robots make their stage acting debut alongside human performers in a play at Osaka University.

OSAKA, Japan — Robotic technology will enter unfamiliar territory Tuesday when two humanoid robots make their stage acting debut alongside human performers in a play at Osaka University.

The robots are a part of a new production penned by renowned playwright Oriza Hirata called "Hataraku Watashi" ("I, Worker"), which focuses on a couple who live in the near future. The couple owns two housekeeping robots, one of which suddenly loses its motivation to work.

In the 20-minute play, Hirata, also a professor at the university, raises questions about the relationship between humanity and technology.

Hirata; Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor specializing in robot technology at the university's graduate school; and others began the project in July in an attempt to introduce cutting edge robotics to the arts.

The robots featured in the play are called Wakamaru and are 3.3-feet tall and weigh 66 pounds. The Wakamaru model was originally designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. for customer service use.

The project team took two months to write detailed control software that enables the robots to move and deliver lines with nuance.

Members of Seinendan, a theater company led by Hirata, began rehearsing with their robot cast mates this month.

The producers hope to develop the play into a full-scale production for the public in 2010 if the debut is successful.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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