Japanese Companies Introduce New ‘Companion’ Robots

11 February, 2018

Robots are being used in industry assembly lines, to carry out medical operations and in the military.

But, some Japanese companies are producing robots for use in the home as companions.

We would like to introduce three models that are more or less affordable.

Kirobo Mini, a small robot for use in home

Japanese carmaker Toyota sells the Kirobo Mini, a small robot designed for cuteness.

kirobo mini
kirobo mini

So far, the robot can only understand Japanese. But it can respond when spoken to and can ask some questions.

A smartphone application provides many communications functions for the robot. If you talk with Kirobo, it can remember the content of a discussion. The robot can learn your name if you put it into the smartphone app that is updated periodically. In this way, the robot can get "smarter" and will be able to "grow up" over time.

Toyota is considering connecting Kirobo to car navigation and smart-driving uses. The robot does connect with the latest model of the Toyota Prius. But the robot is only able to perform basic functions like reminding the driver to turn off the headlights.

The robot is small—only 10 centimeters tall and its price is $350.

Aibo, a robot dog

Sony is the Japanese maker of the PlayStation video game system and many electronic devices.

Now, the company is again producing a dog robot called Aibo. Sony stopped producing the first version of the robot 12 years ago.

The improved Aibo is about 30 centimeters long and has natural looking eyes. It is much "cuter" than the earlier version. The eyes also have a camera, so you can take a picture while playing with Aibo.

The dog robot can respond to a pink ball and plastic bone like real dogs.

Sony says Aibo's "brain" is based in an internet "cloud" service. The idea is that over time and with the owner's effort Aibo can develop its own artificial intelligence. The dog robot can interact with users and respond to voices.

Sony is considering overseas sales but has not decided yet.

However, Aibo is much more costly with a price of about $1800.

Qoobo, cushion with a tail

Qoobo looks more like a cushion than a robot. Yukai Engineering in Tokyo makes Qoobo which has no face or legs.

The robot only has a body and a tail. However, the company says the cushion with a tail can provide a therapeutic effect for people by waving its tail slowly as a response to caresses and tapping. The tail is called a "therapy tail".

Qoobo is the biggest of the robots—at 33 centimeters in length.

It is now available to order in Japan and the United States and is expected to be sent out later this year. Qoobo is the least costly of these robots at $90, but it does not have the ability to "learn" from its surroundings.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Rei Goto adapted this story for VOA Learning English from AP and other sources. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

respond –v. to answer words or actions

companionn.one that accompanies another

affordableadj. able to be afforded

assembly lines n. a series of workers or machines in a factory by which a succession of identical item is progressively assembled

function n. the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing exists.

navigation –n. the act of find the way to go from place to place

cloud – n. the computers and connections that support cloud computing

caress v. a gentle or loving touch

therapeuticadj. having a beneficial effect on the body or mind