The new robot from Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. can’t do much but chatter in a high-pitched voice.
The 39,800-yen ($390), 10-centimeter (4-inch) -tall, doll-like Kirobo Mini — whose name comes from “kibo,” or “hope,” and “robot” — supposedly has the smarts of a 5-year-old.
Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, says its value is emotional, going from home to car to the outdoors as a faithful companion, although the owner must do all the walking and driving.
Preorders start later this year. Shipments are set for next year. No overseas sales are planned so far. The company said it planned a gradual rollout, initially limited to Tokyo and Aichi prefecture in central Japan, near company headquarters, to get feedback from consumers.
It comes equipped with a camera, microphone and Bluetooth, and connects to a smartphone, which needs to be installed with a special software application. It turns its head toward a voice, although sometimes that function fails as its voice recognition is far from perfect.
“Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses. But this time we’re just pushing emotional value,” Kataoka said.
During an interview with The Associated Press, the robot turned its head to the reporter and then to Kataoka when he replied. But the first time Kataoka asked the robot for its name, it replied by asking what kind of car he had. It got it right the second time. Kataoka just laughed.
The robot is not equipped with face recognition technology, and so it cannot recognize different people. The idea is one Kiribo Mini [pictured above, at right] per person, according to Toyota.
More people in Japan are living alone, including the elderly and young singles. And they need someone, or in this case something, to talk to, Kataoka said.
But he was amazingly frank about how…