The fear of getting on the wrong train only grows if you’re an overseas visitor who doesn’t speak Japanese, but luckily Tokyo Station now has a guidance robot named Semi, who’s standing by in the Gransta subterranean shopping center, which connects directly to Tokyo Station’s ticket gates. Semi can guide you to your destination in seven different languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, German, Spanish and French. The robot is designed to respond to spoken questions, which, in theory, should make the exchange feel reassuringly natural and friendly.
In practice, though, Semi is pretty unnerving to talk to. Rather than a human-shaped android or techno-cute robo buddy, the German-designed Semi looks like a head springing from a well, like something out of a Japanese horror story. Sure, the conductor’s hat is sort of jaunty, but the spooky expression on the face it pretty terrifying… especially after Semi starts talking, like in the video below where we tried the system out by asking for directions to Shinjuku Station, on the other side of downtown.
Semi’s head is made from translucent plastic, with projected images creating its eyes, mouth and other facial features. There’s an odd stiffness to the way they move, though, and so the blinking, eyebrow raising and other mannerisms end up looking more like troubling AI glitches than organically involuntary movements.
However, if you’ve got the spine to not run away when Semi starts talking, the robot can actually be quite helpful, as it gave us clear, concise directions on how to get to Shinjuku. “Please use the Chuo Line trains, which depart from Platforms 1 and 2,” Semi told us, in a voice that further startled us by sounding far more feminine than we’d expected from the robot’s appearance.
If you’re ready to test your courage/find you way with Semi, the robot is located in Gransta’s Sweets Area, near Tokyo Station’s famous Silver Bell meeting point. However, since the robot is currently undergoing field testing, it’ll only be there for a limited time, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how scary you find that face.
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