Time was an egg or a sack of flour could be used as a perfectly serviceable substitute for a child (or so decades of sitcoms have taught me). Much of the press coverage around the Kirobo Mini positions the four-inch robot as an adorable attempt to address a population with a declining birth rate – with accompanying images and video “tug[ging] at maternal instinct[s],” according to Reuters.
Others, meanwhile, have already called the notion that it might be designed to replace a child “offensive,” comparing Kirobo to a trumped-up Tamagotchi. Whatever the motivation behind the robot’s release, however,Toyota’s certainly playing on the emotions of its potential audience with its diminutive bug-eyed ‘bot, which is designed to offer some semblance of human interaction, programmed to recognize and react to facial expressions.
The new robot, which is set for release sometime next year in Japan, priced at just under $400 US, is a scaled down version of the equally adorable Kirobo, which inspired some jealously among consumers when it was unveiled in 2013 as a space travel companion for JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata.
The full range of the Mini version’s functionality will be on display this week at CEATEC in Japan, though the initial list of features includes the ability to remember user preferences and engage in “casual conversation.” It also appears to require a tethered smartphone for a full range of functionality.