One might think, or be misled into believing that in the age of both social and anti-social media, we all would have more than the necessary level of virtual interaction. According to one recent report, some people have more friends and acquaintances on social media platforms they’ve never physically met, and most likely never will, than everyday face-to-face relationships. However, if hundreds of virtual friends are good, then one more can’t hurt.
On that thought, Toyota a small robot called Kirobo Mini that acts as a virtual companion. The mechanical pal listens and responds to conversations between humans in any social, or other, situation.
Kirobo works kind of like a two-way radio with the user’s smartphone acting as a transceiver and interface between the robo-friend and Toyota’s cloud service. Audio from Kirobo's microphone gets sent to a smartphone running an app. The phone transmits audio to the cloud where it is processed by voice recognition algorithms and an appropriate response is generated. The response is then sent back to the smartphone and on to Kirobo.
Of course, Kirobo does a bit more, such as turning its head towards whoever is speaking to it. I’d personally like to sit Kirobo down in front of a TV during the election debates. Its head may just pop off. It also moves its arms and hands about when speaking. My Sicilian mother would’ve loved that aspect, enhancing conversation with the hands.
Ah, there is more…would you expect anything less? Kirobo has the ability to learn things about its owner via conversations. It can learn personal preferences, like calling the owner by his or her preferred name, or with a prefix, i.e., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Master, etc. On a road trip, Kirobo can link with the car's IT system and deliver comments on the trip such as, “Are we there yet?, Are we lost?, I need a lube job”, etc. If you plan on taking your robobuddy on a long trip, it will be able to talk for up to 2.5 hours on batteries.
One can only imagine what they are talking about.
Toyota has begun selling Kirobo Mini at dealerships in Tokyo and its home prefecture of Aichi. Price is $392, about the same as a pretty decent acoustic guitar that does not require batteries. Naturally, there's also a monthly fee for using the Toyota cloud service. Ah yes, the gift that keeps on taking. By the way, did you hug your robot today? ~MD
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