A mini robot designed as a companion has been unveiled by Toyota

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Car rides are more fun with a companion, as is life in general, which is why Toyota has introduced a new palm-sized robot meant to spark parental feelings, stave off loneliness, and hang out with humans. The robot, Kirobo Mini, is based on an astronaut character, yet meant to give people the good feelings of caring for a baby without the massive workload.

“[Kirobo] wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” the product’s chief design engineer explained at an event. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

Japan has growing demographic problems, with a low birth rate, a resistance to allowing immigration, and a large population of elderly people who need care. Robots have been working in Japanese factories for a while, but now they’re moving into other jobs like shop assistant or hotel concierge, and gaining the ability to read humans’ emotions.

The robo-astronaut-baby will go on sale next year, costing 39,800 yen ($392). Other adorable robot friends aimed at lonely people are also scheduled to hit the market soon, including a robot seal.

Toyota unveils robot baby to tug at maternal instinct in aging Japan.

[Reuters]