Toyota is making a huge investment in artificial intelligence. It has pledged to spend $1 billion over the next five years to fund an artificial intelligence and robotics institute. Part of the institute’s mission is to develop autonomous driving systems. For comparison purposes, President Akio Toyoda said during a speech at the Paris Motor Show last week that $1 billion is the same amount Toyota spent on its Synergy Hybrid Drive technology for the the Prius.
Toyota has already made a robot in conjunction with Dentsu Inc., University of Tokyo, Robo Garage Co. Named Kirobo, the humanoid was sent into space in June of 2013 to help keep Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata company while aboard the International Space Station. It was in orbit for 18 months. During that time, Kirobo had the distinction of begin the first robot to have a conversation with a human being in space.
Now Toyota says it will offer a much smaller robot it calls Kirobo Mini. The 4″ tall device is small enough to fit into the cup holder of a car where it can interact with the driver. Toyota claims Kirobo Mini is capable of responding to human emotions while engaging in conversation and moving its head and hands. It will sell for $390 and will be available across Japan early next year. It will connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone app that costs users $3.00 a month.
What will it do? If a driver slams on the brakes, it may shout “Ooops.” It can detect if the driver is getting drowsy and tell the stereo to start playing cuts from Led Zepplin albums at high volume. It can even reward drivers with cheery little sentiments like, “Hey, nice bit of driving, mate!” after a long journey. It could possibly converse with the driver about news of the day, such as, “Wow! That Trump sure is a jerk, isn’t he?”
Kirobo Mini is intended mostly to provide companionship to people driving alone. Recent surveys of Japanese drivers reveal they care less and less about driving or owning an automobile. One poll by Japan’s car manufacturers association last April found about 30% of respondents under age 30 had no interest in cars at all.
There is no truth to the rumor that Tesla Motors will respond with an Elon Musk humanoid to chide Model S drivers by shouting, “Hey! Keep your hands on the wheel, dummy. Autopilot is just a helpful driver assist program. It was never intended to drive the car itself. Shape up or I’m texting Elon about you.”
Source: Bloomberg Photo credit: Toyota