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