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Weird: Toyota to Sell “Companion Robot” Next Year for the Lonely

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 8:16
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Japanese car maker Toyota plans to sell a “companion robot” next year for about $400 in the hopes it will serve as a friend to lonely people. [1]

At just 4 inches tall, the robot – Kirobo Mini – speaks in a high-pitched baby voice, and will hit the market in Japan in 2017. [2]

Kirobo is a combination of the Japanese word for hope and robot. The Kirobo Mini is a tinier version of the original Kirobo, which Toyota joint-developed and blasted into space in 2013 alongside Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to command the International Space Station. [3] [1]

The pint-sized robot can hold basic conversations while blinking its doe eyes and wagging its limbs. It comes with a “cradle” that can fit in a car’s cup holder, “helping it fulfill its role as a cuddly companion always on hand for heart-touching communication,” said Toyota. [3]

A cuddly robot?

Videos depict Kirobo entertaining children, chatting over tea with an elderly woman, and giving a pep talk to a new college graduate as she heads to a job interview.

The friendly gadget can even identify human emotions. If you’re feeling blue, Kirobo knows it, and it will ask you why you’re sad.

The video’s narrator says:

“As you live together, you will come to love and be kind towards the Kirobo Mini, just as it does to you.”

If you slam on the brakes suddenly in traffic, the pseudo-pal yells, “That was scary!”

The Kirobo Mini comes with a smartphone connection and a monthly 300 yen ($3) subscription fee. (Aren’t the best things in life free?) It comes equipped with a camera, microphone, and Bluetooth. [1] [2]

Unlike cats, Kirobo Mini responds when spoken to.

Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, said:

“Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses. But this time we’re just pushing emotional value.” [2]

He went on to say that more people in Japan are now living alone, including the elderly and some singles, and they need someone…er, something…to talk to.

“This is not smart enough to be called artificial intelligence. This is about the existence of something you can talk to.

He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself.

This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.

A stuffed animal might not answer back, but people do talk to it, like my daughter once did. But if it talked back, wouldn’t that be better? And isn’t this better than talking to a box?”

In the United States, the concept of a robotic friend is still a bit odd and futuristic, but it’s fairly accepted in Japan.

Read: Intelligent Robot in Russia Makes 2nd Great Escape

In 2015, Japanese technology and telecom company Softbank Corp. introduced “Pepper,” a humanoid robot. The first 1,000 sold out right away; and so far, 10,000 Pepper robots have been sold in Japan. [2]

If you’re hoping to get your hands on a Kirobo Mini, you’re out of luck; there are no plans to sell the little robot outside of Japan.

Read: Meet Durus, the Swaggering Robot

But no worries; robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are about to launch Jibo, a robot that looks like a swiveling lamp. [2]


[1] The Verge

[2] Sky News

[3] The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal



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