Striking a robotic pose

Tokyo - The mannequin moving in the store window is no longer a fantasy. A Japanese firm has developed a mannequin robot that can strike a pose for customers - and spy on who they are and what they're buying.

"Mannequins have been static but this will pose for the nearest person by sensing his or her position," robot designer Tatsuya Matsui told a news conference on Monday.

"It makes the product the mannequin wears look more attractive, increasing consumers' appetite to buy," said Matsui, who heads Flower Robotics.

The female robot, code-named Palette, can draw inspiration from the world's most beautiful women, using motion-capture technology to replay the movements of supermodels.

But Palette will double-up as an industrial spy, with the maker planning to program it to judge the age and sex of shoppers and even identify the bags they are carrying and pass along the information to stores for marketing purposes.

Matsui developed Palette with software company SGI Japan and aim to start selling it this year for the fashion and service industries.

The price has not been set yet but SGI wants to make it "as close as possible to that of conventional mannequins," said Hiroshi Otsuka, who is in charge of new business promotion at SGI Japan.

There is a business chance as "the concept of showcases being static has not changed for more than a century," Otsuka said.

Palette for the time being will be off the catwalk, as its torso is on a metal bar. Otsuka said it was "safer that the robot stays in a showcase."

The robot may remind some people of a 1987 US movie "Mannequin," starring Andrew McCarthy as a department store window-dresser who falls in love with a mannequin who was actually an ancient Egyptian woman.

Palette, however, has no face to fall in love with.

"Consumer attention would be diverted to the face if there were one," said Matsui, the designer, noting he wanted customers to focus on the clothes or jewellery the mannequin wears.

Palette is available in two versions - the whole-body without legs or upper torso models for jewelry displays. Matsui said he wanted in the future to design a Palette with legs along with male and child models.

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