National / Social Issues

Osaka startup releases updated robot doll to keep seniors company

Kyodo

An Osaka-based startup founded by health care product group Fujimoto Holding Co. and toymaker Wiz Co. has released an upgraded version of a stuffed robot doll designed to be a conversation partner for elderly people.

The new Unazuki Kabochan, released June 17, has been programmed with a greater variety of words and phrases, totaling around 450, allowing a greater scope of response to the user’s words and actions, according to PIP & WiZ Co. The previous model could handle some 400 words and phrases, but sometimes failed to reply appropriately according to context.

Selling for a suggested retail price of ¥27,000 at department stores and shops handling nursing care devices, the new Unazuki Kabochan can also sing 13 songs, eight more than the older unit, and the need to reset after it is switched off has been eliminated, the company said.

The 28-cm, 680-gram doll is made to resemble a 3-year-old boy.

“It’s a product for nursing care services,” said Masatsugu Okazaki, a public relations official at PIP & WiZ. “We hoped to create something that heals, and provides emotional support to old people.”

PIP & WiZ was established in 2015, equally funded by Wiz and Fujimoto, the parent of PIP Co., best known for its PIP Elekiban magnetic bandage for relieving muscle stiffness.

Equipped with five sensors for sound, light and motion, the doll nods when a person speaks to it and utters phrases such as “I’m listening.” It also thanks users for patting it on the head.

The more time the person spends with the robot, the greater range of expressions it is designed to utter, according to the manufacturer.

The device is among those chosen by the city of Okayama for its project to lease equipment using robot and other advanced technology for at-home nursing care at a subsidized cost.

The city started the service in January 2014. The original Unazuki Kabochan was released in November 2011 by PIP.

PIP & WiZ says it has received encouraging responses from users, with elderly people saying it helps ease loneliness and their families seeing it as having a positive impact.

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