Japan boasts of a very high proportion of aged people and it spurs companies to innovate products for them. A companion robot is one such gadget that has caught the imagination of many customers in that country. Toyota, one of Japanâ€™s oldest conglomerates, has now expressed it desire to see its robots inside every home in Japan, possibly worldwide too.
The report emerging from the company indicates that a new expert, Gill Pratt, an inventor has been charged with the task of developing a robot that is much more friendly and with which normal people will feel comfortable. The general refrain is that people are a little scared handling them unless they are familiar with technology. The dedicated research and development facility that Toyota has setup, funded through a fat case reserve that the automotive giant is holding, is expected to come up with this robot for homes.
Toyotaâ€™s latest Android, the T-HR3, is what the company wants to develop on and build a commercial product that people can buy and use at home. The robot can be controlled using wearables like smartwatches. And there are even vision goggles that a person can wear and see through the eyes (camera) of the robot. It can perform normal household chores, like loading a washing machine using its manipulative hands and doing errands. Typically, aged people, if they are bedridden, use the robot to fetch things for them which it does perfectly.
Toyota has been constantly investing in this space. The AI-focused Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley was opened in 2015 and in 2017, Toyota set up a separate $100 million fund to support startups that take up robotics technology projects and in other related fields. There is also the division, Partner Robot that is meant to work on bringing down the time taken to develop ideas into products.
Toyota calls them the Human Support Robot. But on the ground, a lot of work is still to be done. Some of the earlier attempts have not been highly successful. The other aspect is getting the regulators to approve the product. The moment a product is meant for use by human beings, a number of factors come in, on safety and so on. Unless these are first addressed and the technology is fine-tuned to enable these robots to do multiple activities inside a home, it may be difficult to fully commercialise the home-robot.
A good guess would be that it may take anywhere between two to five years for this to be realised. In a country like Japan and for a company like Toyota, the sheer necessity may drive them to deliver the product early.