Imagine you have to spend two-hours every day commuting in your car, this is an average of 4.3 years of our lives, so engineers at Toyota asked the question, “how can we make that experience better?” Some people might play music, listen to the radio, but the best way is still talking with someone who you know, shares your interests and cares about you. And that “someone” is the “Kirobo Mini” from Toyota.
It’s a smaller version of Kirobo, the robot that was sent into space along with Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to command the International Space Station. Kirobo Mini will be a 10cm high communication companion that can talk, gesture at you and detect and respond to your emotions, but only in Japanese for now.
The robots will be available in 2017 for 39,800 yen, which is about $400, require a smartphone connection and a monthly 300 Yen ($3 US) subscription fee. And here are some of its outline functions:
- ·A built-in camera to allow it recognizes people’s facial expressions so that Kirobo-Mini can understand their emotions
- ·Engage in casual conversation with the ability to respond
- ·Adjust its own gestures and tone of voice to match the conversation
- ·Grow and provide tailored companionship by saving user preferences and past events
- ·Remember user likes and dislikes and shared journeys
- ·Can be taken to everywhere
- ·Give friendly and supportive comments such as “that was a long drive”, “good job” or “welcome home”
However, these functions are not what Kirobo is really about. As the part of artificial intelligence, the algorithms that run Kirobo are self-learning, allowing it to store its memories, and be able to remember events and places that have been visited for further uses.
Kirobo-Mini will help you to navigate your way home or to work, but rather than just being a chatterbox for elders and childless families, Toyota wants to make the robot become a part of Japanese lives, as they explain on their official website:
“Imagine how driving would change if Kirobo Mini’s technology was integrated into Toyota vehicles: we could assimilate hours of data to better the everyday lives of drivers all over the world, informing future innovations and developing transport that’s in tune with the driver’s mood, suggesting places to visit, routes to travel and music to listen to.”
The birth rate in Japan has been dropping to 50% during the last 50 years, and we’re seeing an aging society full of childless couples and single women. Apart from the urban cities, villages are almost empty and the needs for companionship increase more than ever.
Since the 1980’s, the Japanese government, as part of its national policy related to an aging society has invested money into electronics and technology companies to create robots that can provide companionship and healthcare and benefit society.
Kirobo and the idea of talking robots as companions might not be appealing to people in other countries, but it is a very “Japanese solution” to Japan’s aging population demographics and gives us a glimpse into a future of artificial intelligence and its applications into smart-learning robots.