Japan has always been regarded as one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. At a time when we were still playing with robotic dolls, Japan had come up with robots which could serve as companions, entertainment bots, helpers for the elderly and even as sexual partners. Now, to put an end to the overtly expensive funeral services in Japan, SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper is being programmed to serve as a priest bot!
The robot was unveiled at the ongoing Life Ending Industry EXPO. Yes, Japan has an expo even for stuff related to death – and the Robot unveiled has been programmed to work as a dutiful priest excelling in conducting the last rites of a person.
The basic idea of having a priest bot was the brainchild of Nissei Eco – a plastic molding company which also offers funeral services. They are the ones to put these robots up for sale. They have partnered with SoftBank for their famous humanoid robot Pepper, which was developed first in 2014.
Pepper, in its brand new avatar, will not only be able to chant Buddhist sutras but will also bang the drums rhythmically and live stream the entire funeral ceremony.
According to a Reuters report, these robotic priests have been priced at 50,000 yen (approximately $450) per funeral whereas their human counterparts carry out the same event at 240,000 yen (approximately $2,200).
Having one of the highest aging population and a shrinking number of younger generations, many Japanese are not being able to afford services of Buddhist priests for conducting proper funerals. Some of the priests who conduct such services, are underemployed and often have to venture out of their basic jobs and seek part-time work to survive financially. This gap of lack in priests, says Michio Inamura, Nissei’s executive adviser, could well be taken care of by Pepper in times of need.
Pepper is, however, yet to conduct a funeral service in Japan.