On Monday, Oct. 3, the Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. announced a new tiny companion robot able to chat.
Toyota's Kirobo Robot
According to CBS News, the doll-like Kirobo Mini is 4-inch tall (just 10-centimeter) and costs 39,800-yen ($390). The companion robot has the intelligence level of a 5-year-old child.
According to Digital Trends, Toyota named its companion robot Kirobo, after the small robot that accompanied Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata three years ago on the International Space Station. The 34-cm-tall Toyota-made android was able to engage in conversation and even to showing emotion appropriate to the subject matter.
Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, explains that the tiny Kirobo robot has emotional value, accompanying its owner as a faithful companion. Shipments of the robot will start only next year but preorders will start later this year. So far, no overseas sales are planned.
The rollout of the Kirobo robot will be gradual, being initially limited to the Aichi prefecture in central Japan and to the Tokyo capital region. By making the robot available first in areas near company headquarters, Toyota will be able to easier get feedback from customers.
Kirobo Mini will come equipped with microphone, a camera and Bluetooth. It will easy connect to a smartphone after installing a special software app.
The robot will be able to turn its head toward a voice and have a conversation, due to its voice recognition software. However, the technology behind Kirobo is not smart enough to be called artificial intelligence.
Kirobo Mini cannot recognize different people, as it is not equipped with face recognition technology. However, according to Toyota, the idea is to have one robot per person.
In Japan, many people are living alone, including young singles and the elderly. All these people may need someone to talk to, but some may find disturbing or at least depressing a vision of a society where lonely people are turning to have conversation with machines.