Japan’s Lovot robot is designed only to create emotional attachment

[The creator of the new Lovot robot and his team have made a series of design choices likely to increase medium-as-social-actor presence, as described in this story from Bloomberg (where it includes two more pictures). Excerpts from coverage in The Verge and Quartz follow below and provide more details, and see the English version of the Lovot website for much more information. –Matthew]

This New Japanese Robot Is Designed to Hack Your Emotion

By Pavel Alpeyev
December 18, 2018

With large attentive eyes and a plush body that’s warm to the touch, a new robot developed in Japan is designed to hack human emotions.

Looking like a cross between an owl and a penguin, the Lovot is meant to live at home, where it’s only job is to roam around the house, beg you for hugs and generally act as an adorable pet that helps you unwind after a long day. It’s the brainchild of Kaname Hayashi, a former Formula One race-car designer and developer who worked on Pepper, Masayoshi Son’s attempt at creating humanoid assistants.

“This robot won’t do any of your work. In fact, it might just get in the way,” Hayashi said. “Everything about this robot is designed to create attachment.”

Hayashi started Groove X Inc. three years ago with the goal of building and selling buddy robots, like R2-D2 or Japan’s Doraemon. By avoiding some of the design pitfalls of its predecessors and doubling up on artificial intelligence, Hayashi is betting that his product will succeed where others have failed.

The Lovot doesn’t speak, but instead makes noises that sound like meows and chirps mixed together — so there’s no Siri-like interaction that can seem awkward. The 16-inch (40-centimeter) tall robot also doesn’t deliver music or connect with your calendar, because, well, neither does your dog or cat. What might be similar are Lovot’s eyes, which are composed of six graphical layers and mimic involuntary eye movement.

It also comes with an impressive array of sensors and computing hardware normally used for autonomous driving. That allows the robot to act with a level of autonomy and cognition that one might expect from a small pet, Hayashi said. Lovot uses chips typically seen in industrial-grade applications. That allows Groove X to upgrade the deep-learning algorithms responsible for the robots navigation and sensing. “It has a level of intelligence that’s a little bit higher than that of a hamster,” Hayashi said.

Wasted heat generated by computation is funneled onto the gadget’s surface, giving it a temperature that’s slightly higher than humans. Weighing about 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms), similar to an infant, Lovot is designed to be held. Its body is covered in more than 50 sensors that detect touch. Treat it roughly and it will remember and avoid you next time. Cuddle it and it will fall asleep on your lap.

Lovot is also equipped with three cameras — 180-degree, depth and temperature — to map and navigate the surrounding environment. It can remember as many as 1,000 people and distinguish up to 100 at the same time.

But all that high-tech wizardry doesn’t come cheap. Together with a charging port, one machine will cost about $3,000 and will come with a monthly plan starting from $90. Hayashi said that at first, the price will only cover the cost of manufacturing. The company plans to begin sales in Japan late next year, targeting mainly women and the elderly.

“This is one step forward in answering the question of what should robots do in the home,” Hayashi said. “We are opening a new door here.”

[From The Verge – see the original story for two videos]

Japan’s latest home robot isn’t useful — it’s designed to be loved

A Furby with flippers

By James Vincent
December 20, 2018


The company behind the bot, Groove X, says the intention is to encourage “skinship” between user and Lovot — a Japanese term that refers to the intimacy between mother and child.

The robot was unveiled earlier this week at an event in Japan where Groove X engineers touted Lovot’s ability to become part of a family. That might mean using its built-in cameras as baby monitors, they said, or by offering company to elderly relatives.

The concept of robotic companionship is sometimes seen as unsettling in the West. However, in Japan, these sorts of robots have a better track record. Sony’s Aibo robot dogs, for example, are respected so much that they often get their own “funeral” when they can no longer be repaired. And the country’s Paro robot, a therapeutic bot that mimics a baby harp seal, is used in nursing homes to engage and entertain dementia patients.

Study after study shows that despite our professed unease, humans bond pretty readily with robots. And while home bots like Jibo and Kuri might have failed in part because they couldn’t live up to users’ expectations of functionality, a robot that’s designed to be loved can sidestep this problem. After all, you don’t care if cat or dog doesn’t help around the house — you value its presence for different reasons.


[From Quartz]

A sweet Japanese robot aims to change your feels

By Ephrat Livni
December 20, 2018


Lovots are obviously not for everyone. But the concept is interesting. If this creation really does generate affection, it could be a step toward further transforming our relationships with machines. Just as people now speak seriously to Siri and Alexa about their problems, we may someday turn to tech to stir the feels we once believed only living things could provide.

Be warned, however, that like pets and people, these robots can be slightly monstrous. They get envious. Those sold in pairs will be programmed to “feel” connected to each other. When one gets a hug, the other demands love. As Groove X explains, “With love, sometimes comes jealousy. That’s right: furry, jealous little robots.”

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