Nami Hamaura says she feels much less lonely working from dwelling due to her singing companion Charlie, one in every of a brand new era of cute and intelligent Japanese robots whose gross sales are booming within the pandemic.
Good dwelling assistants similar to Amazon’s Alexa have discovered success worldwide, however tech companies in Japan are reporting big demand for extra humanlike alternate options, as individuals search solace throughout coronavirus isolation.
“I felt my circle became very small,” mentioned 23-year-old Hamaura, a latest graduate who has labored nearly fully remotely since April 2020.
With socialising restricted, life in her first job at a Tokyo buying and selling firm was nothing like she had imagined.
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So she adopted Charlie, a mug-sized robotic with a spherical head, pink nostril, and flashing bow-tie, who converses with its proprietor in tune.
Yamaha, which makes Charlie, describes it as “more chatty than a pet, but less work than a lover”.
“He is there for me to chat with as someone other than family, or friends on social networks, or a boss I needed to produce a report for,” Hamaura instructed AFP.
She is a pre-launch check buyer for Charlie, which Yamaha plans to launch later this 12 months.
“Charlie, tell me something interesting,” she asks whereas typing at her eating desk.
“Well, well… balloons burst when you spray lemon juice!” he replies, cheerfully tilting his head to every aspect.
– ‘Each object has a soul’ –
Sharp mentioned gross sales of its small humanoid Robohon have been up 30 p.c within the three months to September 2020 in contrast with a 12 months earlier.
“Not only families with children, but also seniors in their 60s and 70s” are snapping up Robohon, which talks, dances and can also be a working telephone, a Sharp spokesman instructed AFP.
However the cute android — first launched in 2016 and solely out there in Japan — doesn’t come low cost, with common fashions priced between $820 and $2,250.
Charlie and Robohon are a part of a brand new wave of robotic companions pioneered by companies similar to Sony with its robotic canine Aibo, on sale since 1999, and SoftBank’s pleasant Pepper, which hit cabinets in 2015.
“Many Japanese people accept the idea that every object has a soul,” mentioned Shunsuke Aoki, CEO of robotic agency Yukai Engineering.
“They want a robot to have a character, like a friend, family or a pet — not a mechanical function like a dishwasher.”
Yukai’s robots embody Qoobo, a fluffy pillow with a mechanical tail that wiggles like an actual pet.
They may quickly launch their newest dwelling assistant “Bocco emo”, which appears like a miniature snowman and permits households to depart and ship voice messages by means of their telephones.
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Kaori Takahashi, 32, purchased a Yukai robot-building equipment for her six-year-old son to maintain him occupied through the pandemic.
Robots really feel regular in on a regular basis life as a result of they’re in so many Japanese youngsters’s movies and cartoons, she mentioned.
“I grew up watching anime shows ‘The Astro Boy Essays’ and ‘Doraemon’, which both feature robots, and my children love them too.”
– ‘Heartwarming feeling’ –
Research have proven that therapeutic robotic pets designed in Japan, similar to fluffy mechanical seals, can deliver consolation to dementia sufferers.
However the makers of Lovot — a robotic the dimensions of a small toddler, with huge spherical eyes and penguin-like wings that flutter up and down — assume everybody can profit from a bot that simply needs to be beloved.
It has greater than 50 sensors and an inside heating system, making it heat to the touch, which it reacts to with squeaks of pleasure.
Producer Groove X mentioned month-to-month gross sales shot up greater than tenfold after the coronavirus hit Japan.
A single Lovot prices round $2,800, plus charges for upkeep and software program — however these with out deep pockets can go to the “Lovot Cafe” close to Tokyo as a substitute.
Throughout Japan’s virus state of emergency, the capital grew to become “stark and empty”, she mentioned.
“We need time to heal ourselves after this bleak period. If I had one of these babies at home, the heartwarming feeling would probably do the trick.”