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Published on October 4th, 2016 | by James Ayre

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What’s Toyota Been Doing Instead Of Developing EVs? Making This Talking Robot, Apparently…

October 4th, 2016 by  


As far as electric vehicles go, some of the top Japanese auto manufacturers out there — Toyota, Honda, etc. — can be a bit mystifying. They seem to be either oblivious to the changes coming to the auto industry over the coming decades, actively working to delay them, or just unbelievably skilled at secrecy.

I’m inclined towards believing the second and first explanations myself. On that subject, though, I recently learned that Toyota has unveiled a new “doe-eyed palm-sized robot, dubbed Kirobo Mini, designed as a synthetic baby companion in Japan, where plummeting birth rates have left many women childless.”

So, I guess that’s what Toyota has been working on rather than electric vehicles?

While on the subject, while it’s heresy to suggest that a declining population and “degrowth” could be a good thing, I’m far from convinced that it’s not the best option available to Japan considering its situation as a net importer of practically every major resource, in a world that will face significant resource shortages over the coming century. There are of course geopolitical disadvantages to such an approach, though, considering the country’s neighbors.

“He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” commented Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

Reuters provides more: “Toyota plans to sell Kirobo Mini, which blinks its eyes and speaks with a baby-like high-pitched voice, for 39,800 yen ($392) in Japan next year. It also comes with a ‘cradle’ that doubles as its baby seat designed to fit in car cup holders. The Toyota baby automaton joins a growing list of companion robots, such as the upcoming Jibo, designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that resembles a swiveling lamp, and Paro, a robot baby seal marketed by Japanese company Intelligent System Co Ltd as a therapeutic machine to soothe elderly dementia sufferers. Around a quarter of Japan’s population is over 65 with a dearth of care workers putting a strain on social services.”

Continuing: “Exacerbated by a reluctance to invite immigrants to bolster its working-age population, Japan’s demographic crunch shows little sign of easing, with the government looking at robots to replenish the thinning ranks of humans. In the past half century births in Japan have halved to around a million a year, according to government statistics, with one in 10 women never marrying. Births out of wedlock are frowned upon in Japan and much less common than in Western developed nations.”

Notably, much of the interest in autonomous vehicles in Japan relates to this need to deal with an aging population. With the elderly set to make up a significant portion of the population in the country, who will take care of them? Robots, apparently. Well, that’s the bet that many are making.

 
 


 


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.



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