Japan’s birth rate has been on the decline for some time now, so engineers at Toyota have come up with an ingenious solution to help people apparently feel the companionship of kids: An annoying robot.
“He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer, told Reuters. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”
The Kirobo Mini also speaks in a high pitched voice, just like a real baby that will never let you get any sleep and is slowly ruining your marriage. And, just like a real baby, it will drain your wallet. This freak robot costs ¥39,800 ($507).
Reuters notes Japan’s ageing population as a catalyst for the contraption:
Toyota’s non-automotive venture aims to tap a demographic trend that has put Japan at the forefront of ageing among the world’s industrial nations, resulting in a population contraction unprecedented for a country not at war, or racked by famine or disease.
Toyota says the robot has baked in artificial intelligence that makes it as smart as a five-year-old. The robot also uses a built-in camera to recognise facial expressions and learn phrases. As the Verge notes, it’s a smaller version of the Kirobo robot sent into space with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata in 2013. It’s also just the latest little robot geared toward people missing having family members around:
The Kirobo also has a cupholder shaped “cradle” so that you can bring your demon baby robot around town and so that it can constantly distract you while driving.
From the Financial Times:
The palm-sized robot, with big eyes and red shoes, is small enough to be carried around. When placed in cars, it encourages safe driving by saying phrases such as “Oops!” when the driver suddenly brakes, and “Don’t leave me behind”, when left in the vehicle.
Here’s a video that shows the Kirobot in action: