Toyota – perhaps better known for their range of quality vehicles - have recently unveiled a robot designed to provide companionship for lonely people.
The cute robot, named Kirobo, is just four inches tall, speaks in a baby voice, and is expected to go on sale in Japan later this year for £300.
Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, says that that Kirobo is designed to invoke an "emotional response", and could be a faithful companion for the home or even the car.
"Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses," he said. "But this time we're just pushing emotional value. The robot wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself. This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”
Kirobo is fully loaded with equipment and this includes voice recognition, camera, microphone and Bluetooth. It (or should that be he or possibly, she?) connects to a smartphone, although this needs to be installed with a special software application.
Japan has invested heavily in this area and is a leading user of industrial robots. It follows just behind biggest South Korea, with 314 machines per 100,000 employees, according to official figures
Toyota, which is investing heavily to develop artificial intelligence for self-driving cars, sees Kirobo as a stepping stone to more advanced robots that would be able to recognise and react to human emotions.
If you would like to buy a Kirobo for yourself however, then you will need to travel to Asia as there are currently no plans to sell it outside of Japan.
The idea of companion robots is already widely accepted in Japan.
Last year, Japanese technology and telecom company Softbank Corp launched its £1,500 Pepper humanoid.
The first batch of 1,000 sold out immediately, and it has sold 10,000 in Japan so far.