Eccentric Japanese billionaire now betting that ’emotional’ robots can heal your heart

In his online love request, Maezawa, who was 44 at the time, said he hoped to find a partner who would ease the “feelings of loneliness and emptiness” that arose within him. A few months later, however, he abruptly called off this search for a romantic partner due to unspecified personal reasons.

Now, it seems that Maezawa is betting that the robots can fill the hole in one’s heart.

The eccentric billionaire, who made his fortune through Japanese fashion e-commerce site Zozotown, announced last month that his investment the fund is buying Japanese robotics startup Groove X, which makes a product called Lovot, a portmanteau of the words “love” and “robot.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The pet-sized companion robots aim to spark an “instinct to love” in their human clients, according to the company’s website, with possible use cases in nursing homes and with children. As the pandemic progressed, so-called “emotional” robots also found a new purpose in providing companionship. those who have been forced to stay away from others, according to the company.

The open-eyed devices roll on wheels and have more than 50 sensors to respond to stimuli from humans (who distinguishes through a thermal camera) through machine learning technology, according to the company. The robot is currently only available for sale in Japan. Pricing starts at $2,825 for a single device, plus a monthly service fee of approximately $80.

Groove X was founded in 2015 by CEO Kaname Hayashi, a SoftBank veteran who developed the humanoid robot Pepper. The firm received funding from the Japanese government and introduced its first Lovot device to the local market in 2019. These robots do not seek to provide any convenience or practical purpose. In fact, the company previously described it as “not a useful robot.” The robot “was born for one reason only: to be loved by you,” the company said.
“I never imagined that a robot would cure me,” Maezawa said in a statement announcing his fund’s acquisition of Groove X. While the robot “cannot clean or work,” Maezawa said he sees “great potential in a presence that can make people feel happy, particularly right now.” alluding to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
A worker holding a Lovot robot at a cafe in Kawasaki, Japan, is pictured here on December 20, 2020.
In a statement announcing the sale of its Groove X holdings to the Maezawa Fund, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, a state-funded investment vehicle for Japanese technology companies, noted that Lovot devices have attracted “significant attention from a mental health care perspective in the coronavirus pandemic.” The use of the devices has also increased in “nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools, as well as in nursing care facilities”.

Maezawa also expressed hope in his statement that Groove X may soon begin shipping its robot beyond Japan. GrooveX declined to make Maezawa or anyone else available for the interview, citing scheduling reasons.

It may sound like something out of science fiction, but some The researchers say there is a lot of potential for robots to become beloved human companions.

Diners interact with Lovot robots at a cafe in Kawasaki, Japan, on December 20, 2020.

“There is a substantial amount of research in human-robot interaction showing that people can develop genuine emotional attachments to robots, and that this is something that can be intentionally encouraged through design,” said Kate Darling, research specialist. in personal robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. from Technology Media Lab, he told CNN Business.

“We’re very relational creatures,” Darling said. “I have no doubt that people can and will emotionally relate to robots in the future.”

Darling points out that social robots, or robots that are intentionally designed to engage people on a socio-emotional level, have not yet been a huge success in the United States. “But I think it’s just a matter of time, and clearly these companies too,” she added.

Still, it is likely to remain an uphill battle, as evidenced by the challenges another eccentric Japanese billionaire, Masayoshi Son, has faced in this market. son and his company soft bank (SFTBF) spent years bringing up Pepper, the humanoid robot developed by the founder of Groove X. But last year, SoftBank said it had stopped making Pepper, citing a lack of demand.

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