TOKYO -- It can greet people, show DVDs, and hand out balloons.
Ubiko, a robot-on-wheels with a catlike face, is joining the crew of temporary workers supplied by a Japanese job-referral company to stores, events, and even weddings.
Next month, the 44-inch tall robot will be selling mobile phones at a store, said Akiko Sakurai, a spokeswoman at the company, Ubiquitous Exchange.
Ubiko can be hired as a temporary worker for two hours for $890.
"We see this as serious business. There are jobs that robots are better at," Sakurai said . "People do develop an attachment with the robot, and it's lovable."
The $255,000 robot, which comes with a camera and infared sensors, greets customers with a nasal electronic voice, shows DVDs with a projector in its head, and hands out balloons and other goods with wireless remote-controllable arms, she said.
Ubiko is short for "ubiquitous computing" and "ubiquitous company" but also sounds like a Japanese female name.
Tmsuk, the Japanese company that makes the robot, sold three last month to a hospital, where they are working as full-time receptionists and guides, said a company spokeswoman, Rie Sudo.
One of the hospital's robots has been programmed to greet visitors and is a receptionist.
It also has a touch-panel on its body, which visitors can use to get directions to hospital rooms and services.
Japan's declining birth rate means it could face a labor shortage , and some believe robots could be part of the solution to that problem.
Robots are very popular in Japan partly because of the popularity of "manga" comics and animation that portray robots as friends and aides to humans.