Robot sales in Japan increase due to the pandemic
Sylvie Claire / February 26, 2021
Sales of new robots are exploding in Japan. They allow the Japanese to feel less alone during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nami Hamaura says she feels less lonely when she works at home thanks to her singing companion Charlie, representative of a new generation of cute and intelligent Japanese robots whose sales are booming due to the pandemic. Virtual PDAs, such as Amazon's discreet Alexa cylinder, have been a worldwide success in recent years. But Japanese companies are also reporting a growing demand for more charming androids as people seek comfort in this time of forced isolation.
He chats with me
Yamaha, its manufacturer, situates Charlie somewhere between a pet and a lover. He chats with me differently than my family or friends on social networks, or a boss, Nami Hamaura, who has been chosen to test Charlie before he goes on sale later this year, told AFP.
Sales of Robohon, another small humanoid robot, increased by 130% between July and September 2020 compared to the previous year, according to its manufacturer Sharp. This robotic creature that talks, dances and also serves as a telephone is adopted not only by families with children, but also by people in their 60s and 70s, a spokesman for the Japanese company told AFP.
An expensive robot
But the adorable android, first released in 2016 and available only in Japan, is relatively expensive, with consumer models selling for between 680 and 1,860 euros. Charlie and Robohon are part of a new wave of companion robots, following in the footsteps of Aibo, Sony's robot dog, on sale since 1999, and SoftBank's jolly Pepper, launched in 2015.
Yukai makes Qoobo, a soft pillow with a mechanical tail that twists like a real pet. In June 2020, the company claims to have sold 1,800 Qoobo robots, six times more than in June 2019.
Studies have shown that companion robots made in Japan can bring comfort to people with dementia. But the makers of Lovot, a robot the size of a baby with big round eyes flapping its wings like a penguin, believe that a robot that simply wants to be loved can benefit everyone.
Unlike Charlie and Robohon, Lovot doesn't talk as he rolls across the room, but has about fifty sensors and a system that makes him warm to the touch, to which he reacts with small cries of joy. Sales of the robot have increased 11-fold since the arrival of the coronavirus in Japan, according to Keiko Suzuki, spokesman for Groove X, its manufacturer.
A Lovot costs 2,300 euros, plus maintenance and software costs, but those who do not have this budget can go to the Lovot Cafe near Tokyo. A customer of this café, Yoshiko Nakagawa, 64, notes that during the state of emergency, the capital has been transformed into an empty and austere space. It made me realize the importance of soothing moments, and I told myself that if I had one of these babies at home, a little warmth would be waiting for me when I got home.