The modern successor to the teddy bear

This little robot from Japan cannot do really practical things. The Kirobo Mini is practically a modern successor to the teddy bear and should make its owner smile or entertain.

The leading Japanese car company Toyota is making a new attempt to use robots to address customers outside of the classic vehicle market. Toyota will start selling the Kirobo Mini robot in Japan next year, as the company announced at the Ceatec electronics fair in Ciba, near Tokyo. At the Toyota booth, there was a long line of visitors to the fair who wanted to see the little social robot in action.

The approximately ten centimeter tall companion should have the intelligence of a five-year-old and be able to read the state of mind of its owner from the facial expression. It will hit the market in 2017 for 39,800 yen (350 euros). There is also a monthly subscription fee of 300 yen (2.60 euros).

In 2013, Toyota had already presented the Kirobo, a small talking robot that, among other things, could transport the Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata to the International Space Station. Kirobo was already able to recognize and react to human gestures and facial expressions. The Kirobo Mini now recognizes, for example, whether a car driver is driving too briskly and shouts “Oops!” When the car is braked sharply. On a longer journey, it also reminds the driver to take a break.

What robots can already do today

The Kirobo Mini is equipped with a camera, microphone and Bluetooth. It connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The robot should be able to locate human voices and turn its head towards the speaker. However, the little robot cannot distinguish between different people. Toyota assumes that the Kirobo Mini is assigned to a single person and is not shared by multiple users.

Fuminori Kataoka, the responsible manager of the Kirobo project, said the Kirobo Mini does not have a mind that can be described as artificial intelligence. The robot primarily serves as an emotional connection exception. “It’s about having someone there to talk to.” A soft toy cannot talk even though people are talking to it. “Wouldn’t it be better if it could answer?”

These automakers have the most satisfied customers

Toyota produces the Kirobo Mini together with Vaio, which was spun off from the Japanese electronics giant Sony . The former Sony factory in Nagano prefecture used to produce the robot dog Aibo. Aido was discontinued by Sony in 2006, despite fans in Japan and around the world vehemently advocating further development of the robot.

Toyota is looking for new business areas

Like other automotive companies, Toyota is looking for new business areas outside of its core business. In Japan, car sales are projected to decline over the long term because the population is shrinking due to aging. In addition, many young people are no longer interested in buying their own car.

At Ceatec, the Japanese electronics group Sharp also presented a further development of its robotic smartphone RoBoHoN. The robot can not only make phone calls, but also dance, conduct dialogues and display videos with a built-in projector. After the takeover of Sharp by the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn , observers had expected the project to end because RoBoHoN had not been commercially successful so far.

A version of RoBoHoN that also understands English and Chinese was shown at the fair. In addition, functions have been added to the smartphone so that it can also be used as a robot in the reception area of ​​companies.