[Series 1] Uni Robot Corporation’s social robot “Unibo” -Interview-

The next-generation social robot “Unibo” from Uni Robot Co., Ltd. was released in October 2017 for the corporate version and in 2018 for the home version. In a society with a declining birthrate and an aging population, robots have become commonplace in corporate receptions, nursing care facilities, and hospitals, but theyare not yet familiar to ordinary families. This time, Taku Sakai, representative director of the company, talked about basic functions and development history of Unibo and how to use it in the future.

“What is UNIBO?”
UNIBO is a next-generation social robot that learns about individuality (hobbies, preferences, lifestyles).
<< Basic functions >>
– Family butler.
– Suggestions for everyday life
– Communication (daily conversation in daily learning with emotional expression)
– Programming (FREE customization and utilizing the development kit “skill creator”,it is possible to develop a skill pack)
– Control of household appliances
– Video calls with remote locations-watching and taking pictures
– (Optional) support for foreign languages, cooperation with external systems, sensors, etc. (Bluetooth cooperation, Web API, etc)

For more information about the function, please refer to the second video article!

◆ Interview with Taku Sakai, Representative Director, Uni Robot Co., Ltd.

――Please tell us the reason for the development.
I thought that a robot that could communicate like “Doraemon” and which could also be my partner would be necessary for Japanese society in the long run. I think that mobile phones, smartphones, and then partner robots will spread. I personally volunteered as a philanthropist, because I wanted to use technology to do something that could contribute to society.

I’ve been thinking about how I can contribute to society, if I can do it with a consumer perspective for home-use…

――What trial and error were there?
In addition to the hardware of manufacturing of our robots, we also have make a seeable partner robot that can gain trust from people first, so it is also the concept making, we discuss the design of the robot so that it would be pleasing and then we develop software such as AI…I had a hard time at first especially about “how to design, how people want to snuggle up, how can they get emotional and immersive”.

The last hard part of the actual development was mass production of hardware. In order to mass-produce it firmly, it is necessary to make a mold and put it on the market as a product, so when it comes to mass production, items that satisfy all quality and sales standards I must break through. With great support from our partner companies, we managed to get through mass production.

And, of course, there will naturally be the need to fund investment, so it was difficult to raise a decent amount of money…

――Are there any unique strengths about UNIBO?
One thing, UNIBO can do is learn personality, and personalized robots that learn about hobbies and lifestyles while talking about the person are especially different.
In addition, I think that Japanese people prefer a form of “humanoid” and emotional expression that is not a tablet or speaker.

――About the communication robot market ・How do you want UNIBO to be used?
The communication robot market is for corporations and households, but it is still the fastest in the market to see the value of robots in this way because they are still used in industry rather than for households. I think it’s a way of penetration.

The field I expect in the future is the field of education. While I was active in hotels, nursing homes, hospitals and company receptions, I think it is important to increase the chances of children interacting with robots as one of the more widespread viewpoints in the future. Children play games even if they touch the tablet, but it doesn’t always mean that they are willing to study. So, we are trying out with our partner company “Robots become teachers”, but if we can do that, we think that children can study happily. Even parents can reduce costs, and even if they are unable to go to a cram school due to financial problems, they can learn English conversation and arithmetic at a low price. I don’t need to go through, so I don’t think there will be any worries about strange stories, getting involved in kidnapping cases that are sometimes reported, and so on.

In facilities where there are many elderly people, there are many generations who do not use PCs very much, so robots are also difficult to get new technologies. There is no robot that can do anything easily like SF, so we have to take time to make sure that each robot can meet the needs of the site. We will continue to challenge this, but on the other hand, since robots such as Pepper are starting to be used in elementary schools, I feel that we have entered a new era that was unimaginable a long time ago. In the future, I would like to contribute to the theme of education, so I have a dream that robots can enter the home little by little.

――What are the possibilities of communication robots?
In the industrial world, the shortage of manpower has become a major issue, and a wave of automation utilizing ICT has come into force along with work style reform. Aiming at that, UNIBO is also upgrading, but robots will gradually permeate the market as the number of examples in line with usage increases.

From the Tokyo Olympics, I will leave it to the robots to gradually make robots, and I think that the flow of more concentrated human beings will accelerate. This is because of the rapid advancement of technologies such as artificial intelligence and IoT and 5G that support robotics technology.

In the past few years, there may have been expectations, but in the future, robots that can be put into practical use will survive and become services. Although market penetration will be slow, it is to persistently evolve. I think that communication robots will be able to contribute to society as long as the PDCA cycle is followed and verification → actual cases increase, for example, success data such as prevention of dementia can be obtained. From the viewpoint of popularization, there may still be “before
dawn”, but since this is a rising industry, I think it would be good to have expectations for future development. And finally it would be great if you could be loved by your family. I believe that such a future will come.

――Finally, what do you want to convey to the readers?
The robots we make are based on the concept of “partner robots that have unlimited possibilities”, so it would be nice to let various people know the high level of extensibility achieved by making them.

The robot we are excited about is “I want to be able to do something like this”. I hope you can feel the existence of partner robots that have so many possibilities and dreams.

Things like what you’ve seen in comics and movies are getting closer to reality step by step. There are times when we can get help from that, so I would like to continue working in partnership with partner companies to expand the world.

◆ Current case studies Currently, UNIBO is introduced as a guide robot in Hamamatsucho and several other“weird hotels”, which guides the hall and searches nearby restaurants. In addition, it has already been introduced in other hospitals, nursing homes, and day services used for reception of major companies for demonstration purposes, and singing and singing with UNIBO for rehabilitation purposes, exchange time and recreation time. It is used in scenes
such as gymnastics together. In the future, it will be gradually introduced to the use of call-call operations performed by operation managers, including hotel guest rooms.

▽ UniRobot Corporation Overview
Yubinbango 151-0073
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Sasazuka 3-2-15 Chapter II Berupuraza 5F
President: Taku Sakai
Founded: August 2014
Business: Development of a next-generation social robot, manufacture, sale artificial intelligence, state-of-the-art technology Research and development

Related Links UniRobot Corporation: https://www.unirobot.com/