Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, but it also might be the loneliest. So much so that its people may need to be taught how to love by a robot.
On Tuesday, robotics venture company Groove X Inc. unveiled a cute knee-high robot called Lovot. The name is a combination of the words “love” and “robot,” which befits a device whose primary function is to provide people with comfort and companionship.
“Lovot does not have life, but being with one is comforting and warm,” said Kaname Hayashi, president of Groove X and leader of the development team that created Pepper, the semi-humanoid robot from SoftBank Robotics. “We want people to see that though something may seem useless at first glance, it serves a meaningful function in other ways.”
Born from the concept that “a small amount of love will change the world,” Lovot was created to redefine the role that robots play in our society.
A thermographic camera on its head allows Lovot to track the motion of people around it. It pays careful attention to minute details like facial expressions, hand gestures and even posture.
It has tactile sensors on every surface, LCD eye displays, high speed movement and a high-powered computer. It even has dilating pupils.
Lovot also functions as a makeshift surveillance camera or baby monitor by transmitting live footage from a device on its head. For those concerned about privacy, it can function without an internet connection and its cameras can be configured so the footage is not preserved in any way.
“But it can do much more than that,” Hayashi said. “Lovot is a mysterious and cute presence that will behave differently based on its interactions with its owner.”
Lovot responds to individuals based on how they treat it, the company said. Someone who treats it well, for example, will gain its affection. On the other hand, Lovot will likely avoid or ignore anybody who abuses or neglects it.
Beyond its technical capabilities, Lovot has many eerily human attributes as well. The small, spherical robot wanders around, mapping the layout of the room as it goes. When it encounters a person, it often flaps its arms to signal that it wants to be held. With a soft outer shell, interchangeable clothing and an internal temperature just above human body heat, Lovot was designed with the family in mind, Hayashi said.
Lovot is being sold in sets of two for ¥598,000. In 2020, individual units will be available for ¥349,000. Online orders can be made as of Tuesday and most units will be delivered around fall or winter 2019.
“It’s important for trust to be created between people and machines,” Hayashi said. “Until now, such things were beyond the reach of modern technology. Our predecessors predicted that this day would come.”