Sony unveils family-friendly robot aimed at spurring communication

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Sony Mobile Communications Inc. announced Tuesday it will begin selling a new communications robot targeted at families next month, furthering its foray into the trending robot market.

“We’ve developed this product based on a theme of making it a new member of the family,” Hiroshi Ito, deputy head of the smart products division at Sony Mobile, said during a news conference in Tokyo. “We’d like to propose a new way of communication with this that makes communication more fun for families.”

Dubbed Xperia Hello, the robot will hit store shelves Nov. 18 and is expected to sell for around ¥150,000.

The 21-cm conical-shaped robot can perform various functions such as using its camera to recognize people’s faces and then chatting with them. It can also be asked to provide weather forecasts and the news.

Xperia Hello works with Line and Skype as well. People can use it to send Line messages, and with Skype it can be used to hold video conferences by way of a 4.6-inch LCD screen located on its front.

Taking advantage of these features, family members can enjoy more communications through the robot, Sony said.

Although many tech firms are rushing to produce smart speakers that use voice-based artificial intelligence programs, Sony said Xperia Hello does not fall into this category, saying its gadget is packed with some of Sony’s cutting-edge research, such as those involving sensing, robotics and camera technologies.

It has infrared sensors that can detect motion and seven microphones to pick up voices with a noise-canceling function.

Sony is reportedly planning to launch a smart speaker separately within this year.

Xperia Hello will be launched in Japan first.

Once it spreads among general consumers, Sony said, it will then market it to business users. The firm said it is already jointly developing a reception service using Xperia Hello.

Asked whether the business model is focused on selling hardware or letting other people create software services and sell them, Sony said its focus is selling the hardware for now.