Take a drive with Toyota’s tiny robot companion

Kirobo is back from space and is now here to help keep you company while you drive.

Kirobo is robotic technology developed in collaboration with Toyota as a push into the world of artificial intelligence and companionate robotics. Kirobo was the first companionate robot to be launched into space, keeping Japanese commander of the International Space Station (ISS) Koichi Wakata company from August 2013 until February 2015.

Toyota has decided to take this one step further and has created a 10cm high Kirobo Mini, designed to keep you company in life and in the car. On average, a person will spend 4.3 years in their cars in their lifetime and Toyota believes there is a lot that can be learnt about personal behaviours and emotions while driving.

The palm-sized robot will pick up on facial expressions to help determine your mood, and is able to take part in conversation. To operate the Kirobo Mini, it is connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone, where the owner will pay 300 yen, or $3, for a monthly subscription to the Toyota cloud service. This cloud service helps the robot determine what is being said and how it should respond.

The Kirobo Mini is designed to be quite childlike with doe eyes, a high pitched voice, and a bit of a wobble when he sits. “He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” said Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

With Japan’s population predominantly elderly and birth rates decreasing, this design is suggested to target children and those who are lonely or childless. With companionate robots becoming the norm in Japan, there is little doubt that Kirobo Mini will take the market by storm. There is however speculation as to whether it will make it into US or Australian markets.

As Kirobo Mini grows, as will its purpose, with Toyota suggesting the little robot will be so in tune with the driver’s mood, it can help suggest places to visit, music to listen to, or routes to travel.