What do you do when your home country is experiencing both low birth rates and an increasingly aging population? Why, build the public a robot companion, of course! In fact, that's what Toyota just did with its Kirobo Mini.
Kirobo Mini is billed as a "communication partner," meant to provide companionship to all who buy one. The robot understands Japanese, and can engage in conversation with its owner, complete with gestures and emotion recognition. If you're bummed, it'll try and cheer you up. The robot is small, approximately four inches tall in its natural, seated position. It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and relies on its own app.
Toyota views its vehicles as companions in life, and it wanted to extend this philosophy to consumers in a different fashion. The chief engineer for the project told Reuters that Kirobo Mini is meant to emulate a vulnerable baby (albeit one that speaks), which is meant to foster an emotional connection, much like how the company hopes consumers view its cars.
It's not exactly cheap, since it's loaded with Bluetooth and a camera that can recognize faces. It'll cost 39,800 yen ($389), and it will be released across Japan next year -- in dealerships, naturally. It comes with its own little cradle, which can be used to rest Kirobo Mini in your car's cupholder. Kirobo Mini's dedicated app costs about $3 per month to use, as well.
While cars and Kirobo Mini remain separate for the time being, it's not impossible to envision a future iteration that brings the benefits of Kirobo Mini into the vehicle itself. A car that could read your emotions and try to cheer you up by playing certain music or changing the interior's ambient light color would be a pretty neat thing, indeed.