Homes in Japan could soon hear the sound of the pitter patter of tiny robotic feet. The world of robots has just received its newest member, a robot baby. If it sounds a little bit sci-fi it’s because it is. But, Japan, the country that brought us the most popular robot dog now welcomes Kirobo, the small robot baby.
Japan’s population has been declining for a while now. Birth rates are going down and the average age of the population is higher and higher. Toyota’s robot doesn’t seek to address this, but takes into account the situation in the Asian country.
Kirobo, the Humanoid Robot Baby
Kirobo Mini is a humanoid communication robot. It was developed jointly by the University of Tokyo, Dentsu, Robo Garage and Toyota Motor. Kirobo has big eyes and very cute. It’s small enough to fit in the palms of your hands. It’s purpose is to be a synthetic baby companion. Japan has a large number of women that don’t have any children. Whether they are going to go for an electronic surrogate to a real life baby is not certain. So, the success of Kirobo is not yet a definite.
This non-automotive venture from car manufacturer Toyota aims to take advantage of demographic trends in Japan. The country is at the top of the world’s nations when it comes to aging. The phenomenon has led to a population contraction that is unprecedented for a country that is not at war and has not endured catastrophes such as famine or disease. The fact is that the Japanese are having fewer and fewer children leading to population decline. Also, some Japanese choose to not have any children at all.
Kirobo Will Be Available Starting Next Year
Fuminori Kataoka is the chief design engineer behind Kirobo Mini. Talking about the robot baby, he said that he wobbles a little. He added that this is on purpose, in order to emulate a real baby that hasn’t completely developed the skills to keep his or her balance. This vulnerability is planned for and designed as a feature. It is supposed to foster an emotional connection between Kirobo and the human being.
Kirobo Mini can blink its eyes and speaks in a high-pitched voice that sounds like a baby. It is going to be available for purchase in Japan starting with next year. Toyota has plans to sell the robot baby for 39,800 yen, that’s $392. Kirobo comes with a “cradle” that can be a baby car seat for the tiny robot.
Toyota’s robot baby could follow the trend and Japanese people who don’t want any children anyway will buy Kirobo. But the robot baby could also work to awaken maternal instincts and change minds about having children. In that sense, it could have an unexpected positive effect on attitudes towards having children and child rearing. It will be interesting to see if Kirobo is going to compound the current trend of declining birth rate or if it will succeed to, in some small way, curb it.
Image source: here.