Toyota is bringing Kirobo Mini to market in 2017, proving that robots can be cute and companionable as well as useful.
Developed as a “communication partner,” Kirobo Mini can hold a basic conversation, make hand gestures, and can respond to human emotions, Small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, it is perfectly portable so can serve as a constant companion to its owner.
Sales will start at selected Toyota dealers in Japan this winter ahead of a nationwide roll-out next year.
Kirobo Mini’s range of gestures and conversational skills are principally made possible by its connection via Bluetooth to smartphones installed with a dedicated app.
A built-in camera allows it to recognise people’s facial expressions and try to gauge their emotions, changing the way it speaks and moves accordingly. Kirobo Mini can also draw on information from the vehicle or home environment to generate a conversation – at present exclusively in Japanese.
Kirobo Mini has been developed as part of the Toyota Heart Project, which aims to create human-like interaction between man and machine in a format other than automobiles, but using the same fundamental concept of “inspiring the heart, inspiring you” that it applies to vehicle manufacturing.
Kirobo Mini – outline functions
- Engage in casual conversation, backed by gestures and with the ability to respond to user emotions. Kirobo Mini talks while understanding what is being said to it. It also interprets the facial expressions of the speaker. It adjusts its gestures and tone of voice to match the conversation and makes communication more natural and meaningful by blinking and looking at the person who is speaking.
- Grow and provide tailored companionship by remembering user preferences and past events. Kirobo Mini remembers user likes and dislikes and shared journeys. It can gradually adjust the content of its conversations to make them more relevant to the user.
- Can be taken just about anywhere, with a seated height of 10cm and weighing just a few ounces.
- Use information from its home or vehicle surroundings to enhance its conversational ability. Using connected services, it can make friendly comments such as “that was a long drive,” “good job” or “welcome home”. This function is scheduled to be available for owners of vehicles that can use the Kirobo Mini-compatible T-Connect service and the TSC-HEMS service provided by the Toyota Home Corporation.
Specifications and pricing
Seated height/weight 10cm/183g
Continuous communication time Approx. 2.5 hours
Battery charging time Approx. 3 hours
The outline price for Kirobo Mini is around £300 (39,800 yen), excluding tax, with an additional monthly fee of around £2.50 (300 yen) for use of the dedicated app.