Toyota Unveils “Robot Baby”

You can’t make this stuff up. (Like, I could tell somebody that this thing actually happened today, they would think I’m full of hooey or reading some “fringe” website.)

Toyota—the car company, Toyota—just unveiled their “robot baby,” the Kirobo Mini.

No, it’s not just a “toy,” not the advanced-AI equivalent of a Tamagotchi or a Furby. It is actually designed to be a type of “baby substitute” for women.

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Per Reuters:

Toyota Motor Corp on Monday unveiled a doe-eyed palm-sized robot, dubbed Kirobo Mini, designed as a synthetic baby companion in Japan, where plummeting birth rates have left many women childless.

Toyota’s non-automotive venture aims to tap a demographic trend that has put Japan at the forefront of aging among the world’s industrial nations, resulting in a population contraction unprecedented for a country not at war, or racked by famine or disease.

“He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” said Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

The Kirobo Mini is part of the Toyota Heart Project AI initiative. A larger version of Kirobo spent time on a space station—but apparently the mini is literally being marketed as a sort of “child”-type companion for a country facing a birth rate deficit. And…that’s extraordinary (at least, I think so).

It will be available for purchase in 2017 for about 39,800 yen—or, $400.