Toyota has built a miniature robot that uses artificial intelligence to recognize people, mimic emotions, and even hold short conversations with its owner.
The robot is called Kirobo Mini, and it was revealed to the world on Monday. Kirobo Mini weighs less than half a pound, is roughly four inches tall when it’s sitting down, and can fit in a vehicle’s cupholders when it’s placed in a carrying pouch. All of these factors combined are supposed to encourage people to take Kirobo Mini everywhere.
Toyota plans to use Kirobo Mini to learn how people respond emotionally to robots during their commutes. This, in turn, will allow the company to develop more conversational artificial intelligence for its vehicles. Kirobo Mini is also supposed to be a “cuddly companion always on hand for heart-touching communication” that can “contribute to making life and society more abundant.”
Kirobo Mini is also the latest attempt to build a humanoid robot that doesn’t suck so companies can learn how people bond with robots. Can people befriend a robot? Do they want to? Those are questions Toyota wants to answer.
Many similar efforts focus on building companion robots for elderly people in assisted-living programs. Kirobo Mini is taking a different tack: It’s designed to offer easy access to a friend during Japan’s population decrease and low birth rate.
Kirobo Mini will be available for pre-order this winter, and will debut at Toyota dealerships in Japan sometime in 2017. The robot is tentatively priced at 39,800 yen — around $388 — and it’s not clear when it might debut in other countries.