Japan's 'Buddhist' robots replace priests at cut-price funerals

Nissei Eco offers humanoid Pepper robots to perform the role at a much lower cost.

Japanese company develops robot priests to conduct Buddhist funeralsReuters

In Japan you'll find robots performing all manner of occupations from waiters to cleaners and receptionists but perhaps one of the strangest uses is a funeral humanoid that's replacing priests during services.

The Pepper robot, created by SoftBank Group, stands 4ft tall complete with moving limbs, artificial intelligence and affable futuristic face has now found work as a Buddhist monk at funerals, taking the role of priests who can be expensive in Japan.

Pepper, wearing traditional robes and garments, has been programmed by a Kagawa-based company called Nissei Eco to chant Buddhist mantras and recite sutras that a monk would normally be hired to perform in an initiative that could help families of the deceased to save money.

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In a report by the Japan Times it is claimed funeral costs in the country can run into the millions of yen (1m yen is equal to over £7,000) especially with land to bury the dead coming at a high premium. As Japan's population ages, Nissei's offering for budget-conscious, secular-minded demographic will charge around 50,000 yen (£350) to perform the service, significantly cheaper than that paid to a priest.

The article explains the funeral industry in Japan is changing rapidly with the traditional danka system, whereby parishioners offer donations to families to fund funerals is no longer as common as it once was. Those looking for cheaper ways to send off loved ones may find Nissei Eco's chanting Pepper robot to be just the help they need.

The 1.2 metre robot can chant and recite Buddhist sutras as well as display messages on its screen.Nissei Eco

This wouldn't be the first high-tech offering for the dead in Japan. Some temples in the forward-thinking country have introduced a touchscreen operated system for visitors to retrieve the urns of their loved ones and pay their respects.

Pepper first burst onto the scene in 2014 and has been described as the world's first robot to understand human feelings and emotions as it views its environment through cameras in its eyes. The robot is able to move around by rolling on wheels, while a 10in touchscreen is adorned on its front to display messages and instructions as well as allowing humans to interact with it.

There are an estimated 10,000 Pepper robots in use around the world, with each one able to be programmed to specific task whether for business or pleasure (although users have to sign a contract to promise not to use it for sexual purposes). They cost around £1300 each or can be rented for £250 a month.

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