A company in Japan is trying to undercut the funeral market by having a robot priest oversee the services.
In Japan robots can serve as companions, helpers for the elderly, entertainment bots and even sexual partners, but now SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper has put itself up for hire as a Buddhist priest for funerals.
Taking the German blessing bot’s idea and running with it, Pepper’s new code will let it chant sutras in a computerised voice while tapping a drum, providing a cheaper alternative to a human priest to see your loved ones off into the eternal sleep.
The robot was on display on Wednesday at a funeral industry fair, the Life Ending Industry Expo, in Tokyo, shown off by plastic molding maker Nissei Eco.
With the average cost of a funeral in Japan reaching in excess of £20,000, according to data from Japan’s Consumer Association in 2008, and human priests costing £1,700, Nissei Eco is looking to undercut the market with Pepper available for just £350 per funeral.
With Japan’s population ageing and shrinking, many Buddhist priests receive less financial support from their communities, prompting some to find part-time work outside their temple duties, said Michio Inamura, Nissei’s executive adviser, who suggested Pepper could step in when a human wasn’t available.
Would-be funeral arrangers have the option to deck Pepper out in the robe of a Buddhist monk and can even live-stream the ceremony to those who can’t attend the funeral in person.
Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo said he came to the expo to see if Pepper could “impart the ‘heart’ aspect to a machine because I believe that the ‘heart’ is the foundation of religion”.
Pepper has yet to be hired to conduct a funeral, but with robots slowly creeping into most facets of life it seem inevitable they will be involved in its end in one form or another.