What’s the hottest new trend in robotics? It might be religion. Hot on the heels of Germany’s Protestant-inspired automated blessing machine, BlessU-2, a Japanese company has unveiled a smiling automaton programmed to conduct Buddhist funerals.
Unveiled during the annual Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo, a funeral industry trade show, the little robot was presented by Nissei Eco Co. as an inexpensive alternative to hiring a flesh-and-blood monk. According to Reuters, the robot, a reprogrammed version of SoftBank Robotics’ “Pepper” model of interactive humanoid automaton, can chant Buddhist sutras and beat a little drum to honor the dead. It can even livestream the service if needed.
As funeral costs rise, Nissei Eco says, it can offer the robot, which was decked out in a little robe at the show, for just around $450 per service. Of course this would come at a steep initial cost. According to the SoftBank website, Pepper robots, which are generically built to work as hosts and promotional tools, cost upwards of $25,000. For that and perhaps a host of other reasons, it’s unlikely that funereal Peppers are going to change the end-of-life industry overnight.
More and more, however, it's starting to seem like religion truly is the opiate of the mechas.