Oct 11, 2016

Toyota Announced the KIROBO mini, Your Little Robot Friend

Japanese car maker Toyota dabbles into robotics and gives us the KIROBO mini, a little robot that will be your ever-present companion.

While Japan has always been big on robots, and no other country in the world has as fanatic an obsession with robotics as the land of the rising sun, the big trend in Japan these days is small miniature robots that act like companions and friends. These little robots are a lot like the digital assistants we've come to know in the smartphone and digital world like Siri, Google Now or Amazon Echo, but are designed to be cute, conversational and totally charismatic.

We have it here; Toyota's entry into the robotics race, the KIROBO mini. Based on the robot astronaut KIROBO, which Japan launched into space back in 2013 onto the International Space Station to liven up the place, the KIROBO mini is a smaller version about one-third as large as the original but shares many of the same features.

The KIROBO mini looks and acts very similar to SHARP's RoBoHoN, which we wrote about back in April. Like the RoBoHoN, the KIROBO mini is small but with large, expressive eyes that house cameras to see its surroundings. The KIROBO mini can talk to you and respond to your statements and commands and can recognize your facial expressions and its surroundings. It's also just as conversational, able to make small talk or otherwise initiate a conversation based on how it perceives your mood. If you are frowning a lot the KIROBO mini may try to make you smile or ask you how you're feeling. The KIROBO mini also remembers places you've been to, and learns your preferences and can adjust itself accordingly.

As the KIROBO mini's AI is based on smartphone technology but dedicated and refined to become a robotic companion, the KIROBO mini can probably do most of the standard smartphone functions including keeping note of your events and taking pictures, but this is unclear from the promotional material Toyota has given out. What's known is that the KIROBO mini will require a monthly subscription of JPY 300 (about PHP 140) in order to power its AI, as the little robot will be connecting to a central server to drive its AI.

The KIROBO mini is now available at Toyota dealerships in Tokyo for JPY 39,800, about PHP 18,600. This is significantly cheaper than its competitor, the SHARP RoBoHoN, so it'll be interesting to see how the market develops for Japan's little robots.