Toyota is planning to release the Kirobo Mini, a baby-like humanoid robot, into the market in early 2017.
The robot was unveiled by Toyota a year ago at the Tokyo Motor Show. While other companies at the event showed off new cars and car-related technology, Toyota also had the Kirobo Mini on display.
The Kirobo Mini is a version of the Kirobo robot that was a part of several experiments up in space at the International Space Station. The new robot, however, is slightly smaller and built for the consumer market.
The Kirobo Mini is only 4 inches tall and is small enough to fit inside the cupholder of a car. Toyota is claiming that the robot can respond to human emotions and animatedly engage in conversations with its owners with blinking eyes and wagging limbs.
For example, if the robot's owner is feeling down, it will wobble and ask, "Why are you sad?" If the owner will suddenly brake while driving, the robot will shout, "That was scary!"
Videos that demonstrate the capabilities of the Kirobo Mini show the robot entertaining children, chatting with an old woman and encouraging a fresh graduate in preparation for in interview.
Its name is a combination of the Japanese words for hope and robot, and it is being positioned by Toyota as a communication partner that can provide companionship to its owners. The Kirobo Mini will be released just as surveys held among Japanese consumers reveal a declining interest in cars.
With a cradle that will fit inside the cupholder of a car, the Kirobo Mini can always be accessible as a companion even while in the vehicle, possibly increasing interest in cars for Japanese consumers.
In addition to looking to bring back interest in cars, the Kirobo Mini also looks to tap into a demographic trend in the Asian country, where decreasing birth rates have forced many women to grow old without children.
The Japanese government has looked at utilizing robots to take up the roles left behind by humans due to the country's thinning population. The Kirobo Mini, meanwhile, will look to establish emotional connections with owners in an aging Japan.
The Kirobo Mini, which will carry a price tag of 39,800 yen, equivalent to about $400, will be sold in dealerships of Toyota in Tokyo and in the area surrounding Toyota's Nagoya headquarters.