By YOKO MASUDA/ Staff Writer
July 14, 2020 at 18:36 JST
FUKUOKA--Dancing robot dogs named Spot and Pepper humanoid robots have been cheering on the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks baseball team in the absence of flesh and blood fans and cheerleaders.
The SoftBank Robotics Corp. robots were tapped to fill in while admittance was restricted to games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic forced the start of Japan's pro baseball season to be delayed until June 19. Games were played behind closed doors until July 10 as a precaution against infections.
On July 7, 20 Peppers and 20 Spots packed the left-field stands of Fukuoka's PayPay Dome as the Hawks' cheering squad when they took on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Before the bottom of the seventh inning, when the home team was at bat, the robots boogied to the tune of the Hawks’ fight song.
Uploaded video of their choreographed dance moves quickly went viral online, provoking comments ranging from "creepy" and "unbelievable" to just plain "hilarious."
SoftBank Robotics, a unit of internet conglomerate Softbank Group Corp., which operates its robot businesses, planned the robot dance performance to set the mood for games played without spectators.
Japanese professional baseball began letting fans back into the stands at games from July 10, but the robot performances will continue through July 31.
“Spot robots were originally used at construction sites,” a SoftBank Robotics representative said. “It may be the first time they were used for entertainment purposes.”
The videos of the show uploaded online also sparked a surge of inquiries from foreign media, the representative added.
Pepper robots are often seen at shops of major mobile carrier Softbank Corp. and have become well-known, but what is Spot?
Each Spot robot weighs about 32 kilograms and walks about on four legs. It is sometimes called a “dog-like robot” due to its canine appearance.
Boston Dynamics Inc., founded by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed Spot in 2015. Boston Dynamics became a subsidiary of Softbank Group in 2018.
Spot robots can climb stairs and carry items without getting caught up in cables or small gaps in the floor. In the United States and other countries, the robots are used to ensure the safety of workers at construction sites and gas and oil companies by monitoring their work.
Spot robots have also helped prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In Singapore, the robot patrolled a park and urged visitors to practice social distancing in June. At a hospital in the United States, doctors use the robots equipped with a tablet device and wireless transceiver on their back to remotely evaluate symptoms of people suspected of having contracted the virus.
In Japan, companies began introducing demonstration experiments of Spot robots from 2018. Major general contractor Kajima Corp. purchased one of the canine automatons.
SoftBank Robotics started selling the robots to consumers abroad from June at $74,500 (about 8 million yen) each.
It is offering the robots to companies in Japan for demonstration experiments, but is not currently selling them to the general public.
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