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SoftBank alum reveals ‘affectionate’ companion robot in Japan

TOKYO (Reuters) – the Japanese startup, Groove-X, founded by alumni of SoftBank Group Corp robotics unit, unveiled its first creation on Tuesday of a companion robot designed to make the users happy.

Children pose with Groove-X Lovot the demonstration during the kick-off event in Tokyo, Japan, 18 December 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The Lovot, an amalgam of “love” and “robot”, it may not help with the housework, but it will “pull out your capacity to love,” Groove-X, founder and CEO of Kaname Hayashi told reporters at the launch in Tokyo.

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI) interaction with the environment, the wheels of the machine looks like a penguin with cartoon-like the eyes of man, has interchangeable outfits and communicates in beeps.

It is designed to mimic affection for users who have the show of kindness by the always warm to the touch, going to “sleep” when it’s hugged, or following users.

The practical applications are limited to simple tasks such as a baby monitor or watching over the house via a camera that users can access through a mobile app while they are out.

While Japan is already a leading manufacturer of industrial robots, Groove-X is engaged in expanding the still young market for household robots. It has increased from 8 billion yen ($71.1 million) from investors, including Toyota Motor Corp-backed fund, the chat operator Line Corp and the Japanese government.

The Lovot will compete with Sony Corp’s AI-powered robot dog Aibo, revived last year, more than a decade after production stopped.

Hayashi worked on SoftBank’s humanoid Pepper robot, which can be found in the greeting of customers in shops and restaurants in Japan, but it is a flop with households of three years after the launch.

SoftBank has recently increased the focus on more practical robots, last month, the launch of the Whiz autonomous cleaning machine that makes use of the technology of the company from the portfolio of the U.S. on the basis of Brain Corp.

As with Pepper, Lovot the absorption is probably hampered by the high price of 349,000 yen ($3,100) before taxes with current subscriptions. Units will start shipping at the end of 2019.

Japan ranks lowest among the G7 highly industrialized countries in the United Nations annual happiness ranking.

($1 = 112.5600 yen)

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Stephen Coates

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