Inventors in Japan have unveiled a pint-sized robot designed to be a companion for the country’s growing cohort of childless women.
The robot, called Kirobo Mini and created by Toyota Motor Corp, is designed to emulate a human baby and even “wobbles” like a toddler who “hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself”.
“This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection,” according to chief design engineer Fuminori Kataoka.
The number of childless women in Japan has steadily over the past 50 years during which time births have halved to around one million a year, coinciding with an ageing population.
One in 10 women never marry, while births out of wedlock are frowned upon in Japan and are much less common than in Western countries.
With around a quarter of the population over 65 and a reluctance to boost its population through migration, Japan’s population squeeze shows little sign of easing, with the government looking seriously at robots to replenish the thinning ranks of humans.
Kirobo Mini joins growing list of companion robots
The Toyota baby automaton is part of a movement of companion robots, such as the upcoming Jibo, designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, that resembles a swivelling lamp.
There is also Paro, a robot baby seal marketed by Japanese company Intelligent System Co Ltd as a therapeutic machine to soothe elderly dementia sufferers.
Japan is already a leading user of industrial robots, with the second-biggest concentration after South Korea with 314 machines per 100,000 employees, according to the International Federation of Robots.
Toyota plans to sell Kirobo Mini, which blinks its eyes and speaks with a baby-like high-pitched voice, for around $A512 next year in Japan.