Daily Management Review

Maternal Instinct in Aging Japan to get a Tug by Toyota’s Robot Baby


Maternal Instinct in Aging Japan to get a Tug by Toyota’s Robot Baby
Designed as a synthetic baby companion in Japan, where plummeting birth rates have left many women childless, Toyota Motor Corp on Monday unveiled a doe-eyed palm-sized robot, dubbed Kirobo Mini.
Japan is in a population contraction unprecedented for a country not at war, or racked by famine or disease and Toyota's non-automotive venture aims to tap a demographic trend that has put Japan at the forefront of aging among the world's industrial nations.
"He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn't fully developed the skills to balance itself. This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection," said Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini's chief design engineer.
The Kirobo Mini is being planned to be sold at 39,800 yen ($392) in Japan next year. The baby robot blinks its eyes and speaks with a baby-like high-pitched voice. Designed to fit in car cup holders, it also comes with a "cradle" that doubles as its baby seat.
Although the owner must do all the walking and driving, its value is emotional, going from home to car to the outdoors as a faithful companion, Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, said.
Toyota has planned a gradual rollout of the robot with sale initially limited to Tokyo and Aichi prefecture in central Japan, near company headquarters as the company gathers feedback this means that there would be no overseas sales as of now.
There has been a growing trend of companion robot designing. Paro, a robot baby seal marketed by Japanese company Intelligent System Co Ltd as a therapeutic machine to soothe elderly dementia sufferers and the upcoming Jibo, designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that resembles a swiveling lamp, are examples. And the Toyota baby automaton joins a growing list of such companion robots.
A dearth of care workers putting a strain on social services even as around a quarter of Japan's population is over 65.
With the government looking at robots to replenish the thinning ranks of humans, Japan's demographic crunch shows little sign of easing, and is exacerbated by a reluctance to invite immigrants to bolster its working-age population.
According to government statistics, with one in 10 women never marrying, in the past half century births in Japan have halved to around a million a year. Births out of wedlock are much less common than in Western developed nations and are frowned upon in Japan.
Japan is already a leading user of industrial robots. According to the International Federation of Robots, with 314 machines per 100,000 employees, Japan has the second-biggest concentration after South Korea. Robots have begun moving beyond factory floors into homes, offices, shops and hospitals as new technology has helped them to better interact with humans.
Kirobo Mini is being viewed as a stepping stone to more advanced robots that will be able to recognize and react to human emotions by Toyota, Kataoka said. The company is also investing heavily to develop artificial intelligence for self-driving cars.
(Source:www.reuters.com & www.cbc.ca)