A robot dressed in a pink blouse and a black skirt sits on a chair beside Le Trung as he types on his laptop. Mr. Trung stops and peeks over at her.
The 33-year-old inventor is chasing a dream - of building the perfect domestic companion. Working out of his parents' home in Brampton, Ont.
Mr. Trung has been tinkering with robots since Grade 3 and for the past year has channeled his energy into Project Aiko, which he believes could lead to humanoid helpers for hospitals, retirement homes and even airports.
"She can recognize faces, she can identify medication, she can even butter your toast," he says.
So far, Aiko has cost Mr. Trung about $24,000. He has spent his way through three credit cards and has been unemployed for three months. Finding a sponsor or investor is at the top of his list of things to do, he says.
Aiko is robotics on a budget: Her clothes belong to Mr. Trung's mother. "She brushes her hair every morning. She's like the daughter she never had," he says.
Mr. Trung is waiting for new parts for Aiko's hands to arrive so he can teach her to make tea and coffee in the morning.
"Her fingertips are still made of cardboard, see. I don't have money for titanium," he says as he holds up the android's gloved hand.
Aiko, who weighs about 32 kilograms, has a female outer-body casing made entirely of silicone. Her basic hardware took only 1˝ months to build, but her internal software has been in development for more than a year.
The android has sensors in strategic points all over her body and a camera in her neck. These allow her to respond to touch, visual cues and voice commands.
Mr. Trung has even taught Aiko how to read and do basic math. He holds up a page of large-sized print and has Aiko read a paragraph from one of his favourite animes. She gets through the page with only one mistake.
"She spells out words I haven't taught her yet," he says, adding that Aiko has learned 13,000 words in English and Japanese so far.
But while Mr. Trung says he will continue trying to humanize Aiko, he insists he does not see her as a replacement for a real female companion.
"I'm attached to it, but do I sleep with it? No
," he says. "It was just less threatening to develop a female robot."
Mr. Trung's next goal for Project Aiko is to get her walking. But that would cost thousands of dollars. Until an investor comes calling, he plans to keep working on what he calls his biggest achievement to date.
"She can work 24 hours, no break, no pay and she won't ask for a raise," he says. "That's okay for a home budget."