(NEWSER) – Toyota has introduced an odd new product, and no, it’s not a car. The Japan-based automotive manufacturer just unveiled the Kirobo Mini, a small, humanoid robot designed to “invoke an emotional connection,” according to chief design engineer Fuminori Kataoka. Toyota’s robot is one of a “growing list” of companion devices coming out in the country, which is suffering population contraction due to a plethora of social factors, including a general lack of interest in marriage and children among young Japanese, Reuters reports. With a lack of caretakers for an increasingly elderly population, the country is turning to robots to fill the gap.
The Kirobo Mini itself doesn’t offer any functionality beyond companionship, though the palm-sized robot “wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” Kataoka says. It also comes with a “cradle” of sorts, designed to fit in the cupholder of one’s car. According to Digital Trends, the Kirobo Mini was inspired by a larger robot Toyota made as a companion for a Japanese astronaut aboard the ISS. Toyota’s betting the concept will be a hit down here on Earth, too, and it must be confident, as the device is priced at a whopping 39,800 yen (roughly $392), plus a $3 monthly subscription. The device will go on sale next year in Japan… see more