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Three years ago a small robot called Kirobo
blasted into space , headed for the
International Space Station. When it
arrived, the 34-cm-tall, Toyota-made
android became best buddies with Japanese
astronaut Koichi Wakata, accompanying him
around the station, engaging in polite
conversation, and even showing emotion
according to the subject matter.


Following Kirobo’s successful space jaunt,
the car company decided to back the
development of a smaller version of the
already small robot, calling it – rather
appropriately – Kirobo Mini. It unveiled the
diminutive droid at the 2015 Tokyo Motor

Toyota announced on Monday that Kirobo
Mini will go on sale in Japan next year for
39,800 yen (about $390), though a 300-yen
(about $2.95) monthly subscription fee will
also be necessary.
Besides the robot itself, you’ll also receive a
“cradle” that’s designed to fit inside a car’s
cup holder, ensuring that the robot travels in
style wherever you take it. Just don’t forget
it’s there when you’re drinking a hot coffee.
An ad (above) released by Toyota over the
weekend shows Kirobo Mini hanging out with
families, couples, the elderly, singletons, and
students, with everyone visibly enthralled by
its ability to say the right thing at the right
time. However, Kirobo Mini’s specific
functionality, and the extent to which it’ll
be able to interact with humans, is yet to be
Designed by Tomotaka Takahashi of the
University of Tokyo’s Research Center for
Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST),
Robo Garage of Kyoto University, and
Toyota, the original Kirobo was sent to the
ISS in 2013 to join Wakata for the first-ever
space-based communication experiments
between a robot and a human.

“I wish for this robot to function as a
mediator between a person and machine, or a
person and the Internet, and sometimes even
between people,” Takahashi said at the time.

In a country with a rapidly aging population
and where an increasing number of people
are living alone, it’s perhaps little surprise
that companion robots like Kirobo are
garnering increasing attention in Japan.
Japanese mobile giant SoftBank launched
Pepper a couple of years ago, marketing it as
an “emotional robot” that can dance, sing,
and tell jokes, while in June Sony CEO Kazuo
Hirai said his company is currently working
on a robot that’ll be capable of “forming an
emotional bond with customers.”

And we mustn’t forget Sharp’s remarkable
RoBoHon smartphone . The tiny robot, which
bears more than a passing
resemblance to Kirobo Mini, also behaves like
your personal pal (or more accurately,
assistant), reading out your phone messages
and alerts, waking you up in the morning,
and making and placing calls.