Toyota / Cupholder Companion
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Japanese car brand unveils Kirobo Mini, a 10cm robot that will improve your driving
Kirobo Mini is an in-car communication companion for Toyota drivers to help improve their driving. Currently a concept, the 10cm high robot will speak to drivers while they’re behind the wheel and also aim to understand human emotions.
Kirobo Mini was spawned from Kirobo - the larger robot astronaut pictured - which took part in experiments during an 18-month stint at the International Space Station. Kirobo became the first robot astronaut to hold a conversation in space.
Following Kirobo’s return, Toyota, the world’s biggest selling car company, launched Kirobo Mini as part of the Toyota Heart Project, the auto brand’s ‘vision of a future where humans and artificial intelligence work together for a better world’.
Toyota’s logic? As people spend an average of 4.3 years of their lives in their cars, the brand believes that a lot can be learnt about human behaviour and emotion while driving.
Toyota unveiled Kirobo Mini at the Tokyo Motor Show this week. In an interview with Tech in Asia, Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s project manager, said: ‘You’ll try to drive more safely, as if you were with a friend or family member. We’re focused on raising the awareness of the driver, rather than direct safety functionality.’
Contagious Insight /
Function and emotion / Kirobo Mini’s most notable feature is the emotional aspect that it brings to driving and data capture. We’ve reported on other initiatives that intend to use data in a purely functional way. Over the last few months alone, we’ve seen Nexer from Brazil, which can transform any car into a connected vehicle, and Verizon’s Hum, an app from the telco to track your car’s health using telematics. Yet Kirobo Mini goes beyond mere function, intending to develop an understanding of the emotions and behaviour of drivers too. From a business point of view, that will give Toyota valuable insights into the people who drive Toyota cars, revealing their pain points and the specifics of car design and driving that irritate them. That is insight that no other auto brand will have and which could be incredibly valuable in informing the evolution of future vehicles.
One step ahead / Toyota, having been the first auto brand to unveil a hybrid vehicle back in 1997, prides itself on being ahead of the pack when it comes to tech. Kirobo Mini is no exception. While many other auto brands are only just starting to launch hybrid vehicles, Toyota has sold more than eight million Prius cars worldwide. At a time when Volkswagen is suffering a mighty blow in terms of both sales and corporate reputation, Toyota, through innovations like Kirobo, comes across as even more future-facing yet at the same time people-centric. That’s a positive space for an auto brand to occupy.
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