Almost two years before Japanese fashion titan Yusaku Maezawa headed on his recent tourist visit to the International Space Station, he had made a global statement as he began a worldwide search for a life partner to go to the moon with him.
Maezawa, who was 44 at the time, said he hoped to find a companion that would ease the feelings of loneliness and emptiness surging within him. Shortly thereafter, he called off this quest for a romantic partner without stating any reason.
It has come to light now that Maezawa is hoping robots may be able to fill the hole in one’s heart.
The eccentric billionaire, who made his fortune through the Japanese e-commerce fashion site Zozotown, announced recently that his investment fund is buying Japanese robotics startup Groove X, which makes a product called Lovot, a combination of the words “love” and “robot.”
The pet-sized companion robots aim to stir an “instinct to love” in their human customers, according to the company’s website, with potential use cases in nursing homes and with children. As the pandemic raged, the so-called “emotional” robots also found new purpose in providing companionship to those who have been forced to stay apart from others, as per the company.
The wide-eyed devices roll around on wheels and have more than 50 sensors to respond to stimuli from humans (whom it distinguishes via a thermal camera) through machine learning technology, according to the company. The robot is currently only available for sale in Japan. The price starts at $2,825 (AED10,376) for a single device, plus a monthly service fee of approximately $80 (AED294).
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 unveiled its first Lovot device to the local market in 2019. These robots don’t seek to provide any convenience or practical purpose. In fact, the company has previously described it as “not a useful robot.” The robot was “born for just one reason — to be loved by you,” the company said.
“I never imagined that a robot would heal me,” Maezawa said in a statement announcing his fund’s acquisition of Groove X. While the robot “can’t clean or do work,” Maezawa said he sees “big potential in a presence that can make people feel happy, particularly at this time,” alluding to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
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