Firm says Kirobo ro­bot is as smart as a five year old

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

The new ro­bot from Ja­panese au­tomaker Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp can’t do much but chat­ter in a high-pitched voice.

The 39,800-yen (Dhs1,400), 10cm-tall, dol­l­like Kirobo Mini – whose name comes from kibo, or hope, and ro­bot – sup­pos­edly has the smarts of a five-year-old child.

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. 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 an app. It turns its head to­ward a voice.

“Toy­ota has been mak­ing cars that have a lot of valu­able uses. But this time we’re just push­ing emo­tional value,” Kataoka said.

The ro­bot is not equipped with face recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, and so it can­not recog­nise dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The idea is one Kiribo Mini 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 use­less his ro­bot is.

“This is not smart enough to be called ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence,” he said. “This is about the ex­is­tence of some­thing you can talk to. A stuffed an­i­mal might not an­swer back, but peo­ple do talk to it, like my daugh­ter once did this. But if it talked back, wouldn’t that be bet­ter? And isn’t this bet­ter than talk­ing to a box?”

Some may find de­press­ing, if not dis­turb­ing, a vi­sion of a so­ci­ety of lonely peo­ple turn­ing to di­a­logue with ma­chines.

But pro­po­nents say that’s the re­al­ity, and that the tech­nol­ogy can serve as a tool to help care for the sick or the el­derly.

Naoki Mizushina, re­searcher at Tokyo-based MM Re­search In­sti­tute, which stud­ies the robotics mar­ket, said the ro­bot was too much like talk­ing toys, on sale at cheaper prices, and it seemed to lack con­crete func­tions to make it a big hit, such as link­ing to on­line shop­ping or fur­nish­ing con­ve­nient in­for­ma­tion. “Will this take off? It might be tough,” he said. But those who like gad­gets – and there are quite a few in Ja­pan – may want one. Toy­ota de­clined to say how many it aims to sell.

COM­PAN­ION: Kirobo Mini is un­veiled at its of­fi­cial launch

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