Toyota Motor has revealed a cute, little robot called Kirobo Mini that can fit in the cupholder of your car and will tug at your heartstrings.
Kirobo Mini is a companion robot and is the smaller version of the Kirobo robot developed by Toyota to accompany the Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) about three years ago.
Now, Toyota plans to sell Kirobo Mini to the Japanese customers in search of a companion for 39,800 yen. Kirobo Mini is 10cm high can fit in the palm of your hand. The cuddlesome lil bot comes with its own cradle to sit in the cup holder of your vehicle.
Kirobo Mini can indulge its human companions with casual chit chat and hand and head gestures. The embedded camera in the companion robot enables it to recognise the facial expressions, detect emotions, and react accordingly.
Kirobo Mini can also remember the likes and dislikes of the user to make the interaction more realistic and meaningful. Kirobo Mini connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth adding a monthly fee of 300 yen to its original cost.
The Falling Birthrates in Japan and a Baby-like Companion Bot
While it may appear that Toyota chose the design of the robot to resemble a baby because it is easier to connect with one; however, the choice was rather more deliberate. The chief design engineer for Kirobo Mini, Fuminori Kataoka elaborated how the design enables the people to connect with the bot:
“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.”
Admittedly, it is easier to connect with a companion robot that looks like it needs you rather than the other way round. More Japanese people than ever are living alone now. The world population increased by half a billion from 2010 to 2015, however the Japanese population dropped by one million.
Toyota’s companion robot is an unlikely antidote to the falling birthrates in the country. The company spokesperson said about the product:
“Toyota Heart is a unique project that explores the development of meaningful communication between humans and robots. The program has been created with the assumption of having a conversation with young children.”
You can watch Kirobo Mini in action in this video: