Japan has always had a soft spot for companion robots, in contrast to the more industrial or mechanical types used for assembly lines, surgeries and military missions. Here are three relatively affordable home robots from Japanese makers that target the elderly, kids and hardworking people pressed for time. They’re not all available in the United States yet, but it may only be a matter of time.
WHAT IT IS Toyota Motor Corp.’s Kirobo Mini is small enough to fit in your hand and looks like a child clad in a space outfit. It’s apt to repeat phrases like, “I missed that; can you say that again?” and “Hmmm . . . ”
The robot can be programmed to recognize your name and the name you give it via a smartphone app that updates its software periodically so Kirobo Mini will get “smarter” — growing up, so to speak.
Toyota is considering connecting Kirobo to car-navigation and smart-driving capabilities. It now connects to the latest Prius hybrid, placed in a special dock that links to car navigation.
SIZE 4 inches tall, 6.5 ounces
WHAT IT IS Sony Corp.’s reincarnation of the robot dog that it stopped making 12 years ago has more natural-looking eyes than the previous version and can cock its head and sway its hips at more varied, subtle angles. Sony says its “heart,” more aptly its brain, is in an internet “cloud” service that serves as Aibo’s memory. In theory, it could, with time and work, develop its canine artificial intelligence.
Aibo has a high-pitched electronic “bark” and responds to a pink ball and a pink plastic bone, to voices and to petting. It can crouch on its belly, strut around, wag its tail and pick up the plastic bone with its mouth. It also pants with joy when petted, and can perk an ear as if it’s listening.
SIZE 12 inches long, 5 pounds
PRICE $1,800 plus costs for cloud and maintenance services
WHAT IT IS A fuzzy, huggable cushion with a whimsically swishy tail, Qoobo is designed to deliver a calming therapeutic effect for the cat lover who can’t have a real kitty. It has no face or whiskers, no legs and no purr, just a responsive tail that wags slowly when it is gently stroked and energetically when it is tapped.
A single charge will have your pillow-with-a-tail wagging for eight hours. It’s available for online orders through Kickstarter.
SIZE 13 by 21 inches, 2 pounds
— The Associated Press