The 10cm Kirobo Mini can respond to questions with words and gestures

Toyota launches mini robot driver companion

Image credit: Toyota

Toyota has unveiled a miniature robot companion that can communicate with car drivers and interpret their emotions when behind the wheel.

Kirobo Mini is a 10cm-high robot companion and is based on technology developed by Tokyo University researchers and roboticist Tomotaka Takahashi for the Kirobo robot – a robotic astronaut which served at the International Space Station in 2013. 

Kirobo Mini comes equipped with a camera, a microphone and Bluetooth and connects to a smartphone, which needs to have a specific software application installed to power the robot.  

The robot turns its head towards a voice and responds with words and gestures. However, it doesn't recognise faces, as Toyota envisions there will only be one Kirobo Mini per person.

Toyota said the cute piece of technology will enable the collecting of data on human interaction with artificial intelligence. 

“With people spending an average of 4.3 years of their lives in their cars (which equates to traveling to the moon and back three times) Toyota believes that much can be learnt about our behaviour and emotion while driving,” Toyota said in a statement. “And that’s where Kirobo Mini could help. Imagine how driving would change if Kirobo Mini’s technology was integrated into Toyota vehicles. We could assimilate hours of data to better the everyday lives of drivers all over the world.”

The data, according to the car-maker, could be used to develop systems that would take into consideration the driver’s mood, suggest places to visit and the type of music to listen to.

The little robot was developed as part of the Toyota Heart project, which explores what Toyota calls the development of meaningful communication between humans and robots.  

The car-maker cooperated on the development with University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and Robo Garage, the developers of the original Kirobo astronaut robot. 

The robot will initially only be available in Japan. It will start selling from early next year for 39,800 yen ($400).  

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