Toyota's new 'low-tech' robot baffles industry experts

Updated : 16.11.2016 / Category Capsule

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Toyota Motor Corp.'s announcement that it will market a new palm-sized robot, Kirobo Mini, from 2017, has perplexed robot industry insiders, with one commenting, "It's simply like a toy; we can't fathom the motives behind Toyota's move."

When addressed, the 183-gram robot turns toward the speaker and engages in conversation, while moving its face and hands. The robot will cost ¥39,800 with a monthly fee of ¥300 to use a special application.

Toyota has long been dogged by robot-related bad luck. The company initially decided to embark upon a robot-development project following the attention generated by Asimo, Honda's Motor Co.'s bipedal walking robot. This culminated in Toyota's launch of an instrument-playing humanoid robot at Expo 2005, in Aichi Prefecture. But the robot was met with scathing criticism, with one person commenting that it was on "the level of a doll at an amusement park." The robot's performance reportedly exposed the robot-manufacturing technology gap that exists between the automakers.

The company's latest move has also met with stinging comments. "Toyota must have gone out of its mind," said a venture firm employee involved in robot-making.

Toyota is advertising the robot as part of its Toyota Heart Project—the firm's vision of a future where humans and artificial intelligence work together for a better world—to meet the challenges of manufacturing new products other than automobiles.

However, there is a yawning gulf between the company's grand idea and the stark reality of the new robot, prompting people to question the company's spirit of challenge.

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This is a translation of an article from the November 2016 issue of Sentaku.