Date
24 January 2017
A staff member listens to Toyota's Kirobo Mini robot. Toyota plans to promote it as a companion to aging people in Japan. Photo: Reuters
A staff member listens to Toyota's Kirobo Mini robot. Toyota plans to promote it as a companion to aging people in Japan. Photo: Reuters

Toyota robot baby taps maternal instinct in aging Japan

Toyota Motor Corp. has unveiled a doe-eyed palm-sized robot designed as a synthetic baby companion to aging people in Japan, where plummeting birth rates have left many women childless.

The robot, named Kirobo Mini, taps a demographic trend that has put the country at the forefront of aging among the world’s industrial nations, resulting in a population contraction unprecedented for a country not at war, or racked by famine or disease, Reuters reports.

“He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” said Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer.

“This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

Toyota plans to sell Kirobo Mini, which blinks its eyes and speaks with a baby-like high-pitched voice, for 39,800 yen (US$392) in Japan next year.

It also comes with a “cradle” that doubles as its baby seat designed to fit in car cup holders.

The Toyota baby automaton joins a growing list of companion robots, such as the upcoming Jibo, designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that resembles a swiveling lamp, and Paro, a robot baby seal marketed by Japanese company Intelligent System Co. Ltd. as a therapeutic machine to soothe elderly dementia sufferers.

Around a quarter of Japan’s population is over 65 with a dearth of care workers putting a strain on social services.

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