Tomy, Docomo unveil conversational robot toy


Staff Writer

Tomy Co. on Thursday introduced a conversation robot jointly developed with NTT Docomo Inc. that it claims can hold “natural” conversations with people.

“We want to develop toys that are not only for play, but also for jumping into people’s everyday lives to make them more convenient,” said Tomy COO H.G. Meij at a Tokyo news conference Thursday.

The robot, Ohanas, is scheduled for release on Oct. 1 (in Japanese only) and converses with help from a cloud-based conversation database that Docomo calls the “natural-language dialogue platform,” the two firms said.

For the toy to work, the Ohanas app must first be installed in the owner’s smartphone or tablet computer to form a Bluetooth connection with the robot.

“We needed to go beyond the concept of conventional toys, and we incorporated Docomo’s technology as a first step,” Meij said.

According to Tomy, Ohanas, coined from “organized human interface and network artificial intelligence system,” can recite weather information, suggest dinner menus, play music, search for restaurants and even “write” haiku.

In a promotional video on YouTube, a Japanese housewife is shown asking the robot in the kitchen, “What do I cook for dinner?”

The robot says: “The seasonal ingredient now is ‘soramame’ (a type of bean). They can be cooked in various ways, boiled in salt water, in stews, stir-fried or in soup. I hope that helps in deciding the menu.”

The robot makes use of Docomo’s voice recognition technologies for smartphones and cellphones, known as Shabette Concier. It has been installed in about 30 million handsets and is being fine-tuned to make conversation more natural.

When asked how Ohanas is superior to existing robots in making conversation, a Docomo official revealed that it can recognize a simple statement such as “I am going to Kyoto,” even if phrased in multiple ways.

Ohanas, which is only 16 cm high, looks like a pudgy, round alarm clock with two eight-color LED eyes and stumps for feet. Tommy said it was designed after a sheep.