A potentially significant moment in history will occur in the first few months of 2017 as Toyota's Kirobo Mini companion robot is released commercially. To be fully unveiled to the world tomorrow at CEATEC in Tokyo, the Kirobo Mini is the first really big scale personal robotics roll-out and given Toyota's first mover advantage in the potentially massive consumer robotics arena and its status as the world's largest auto maker (with a global showroom, sales and service infrastructure), this moment in time will be regarded in the future as a milestone in consumer robotics.
The next century is going to be all about robotics, and the release of the 10 cm (3.9 in) Kirobo Mini may turn out to be "Year Zero" in the consumer robotics industry, the year it kicked off.
Toyota has been developing companion robots for more than a decade and though the Kirobo Mini is small (weighing 183 g/6.5 oz) it's one very smart robot, with voice recognition, emotion recognition, facial recognition and a whole bundle of potential to use artificial intelligence to create an ever–more–attentive, 24/7 friend who remembers your preferences, can gesture and get excited for your wins, console your losses, and respond appropriately verbally to your emotions.
Though some might scoff at the concept of a synthetic artificial intelligence friend, research has repeatedly shown that companion robots make their human owners feel better and they have become valued friends to the elderly and children alike. If it makes you feel better ...
Hence the Kirobo Mini has the ability to be a thoroughly engaging companion regardless of whether you are five or ninety five years of age. For the road warrior, the Kirobo Mini is hoped to become your personal digital assistant and with its artificial intelligent software being continually refined, become better at what it does over time.
Kirobo was originally designed as a traveling companion for the car, first appearing as a dashboard located talking head in Tokyo Show concept cars more than a decade ago. This was after Toyota research had shown that people in Japan spend an average of 4.3 years of their lives in their cars.
The Kiboro Mini is the first commercial product to come from the Toyota Heart Project, which aims to develop a distinctly humanlike interaction between man and machine.
The Kirobo Mini will be on display at Japan's largest electronics trade fair, CEATEC, when it opens tomorrow at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture.
The theme this year is "Connecting Society, Creating the Future," hence Toyota's product is very appropriate. CEATEC runs from October 4 to October 7, and visitors to the show will be able to experience the Kirobo Mini first hand.
Billed as being available "in winter" (Japan's winter runs 21 December 2016 to 20 March 2017), the 10 cm tall companion robot will cost US$400 plus $3 a month subscription via a smartphone app (Kirobo pairs with your phone via Bluetooth, and is reported good for about 2.5 hours of continuous communication between charges). The initial phase of presales at designated dealerships in Tokyo and Aichi will precede a nationwide rollout.
More details once CEATEC is underway. The promo video below (in Japanese with English subs) shows the Kirobo Mini in action.