Earlier this week, Toyota unveiled a robot specifically designed to keep Japanese drivers company. The bot, Kirobo Mini, is a coffee mug-sized android with tiny limbs and huge, vulnerable eyes, and Toyota was perfectly clear about its purpose.
“Kirobo Mini is a miniature communication partner developed to provide companionship,” the Japanese automaker said in a press release. “Its compact size means it can be taken just about anywhere, helping it to fulfill its role as a cuddly companion always on hand for heart-touching communication.”
The fact that there’s even a market for a “heart-touching communication” device is a little disturbing, but Toyota may be on to something. Japan’s birth rate has been abysmal in recent years, and its population is declining at the fastest rate in recorded history.
Meanwhile, people 65 and older make up more than a quarter of Japan’s population, a proportion that has grown every year since 1994. And with the birth rate so low, the “cuddly companions” that Kirobo Mini is meant to replace may be grandkids.
If this is all kind of depressing, watch the video of the robot, above. Look at his little face!