Japanese ‘Lovot’ robots promises to be high-tech pet replacement

Experience life with an endearing, big-eyed robot with lifelike features — including artificial body temperature and affectionate personality — that is being marketed as an alternative to pet ownership in Japan.

At an event for families that kicked off Tuesday, several Lovot robots developed by Tokyo-based venture Groove X Inc. frolicked with visitors to the EQ House facility in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.

Upon entering the exhibition room, one of the 43-cm robots wheeled over to reporters and flapped its arms, beckoning to be held.

Just like pets, the Lovot (yes, a combination of love and robot) develops a varying degree of attachment to people depending on the amount of care provided, such as gentle stroking or a hug. Once administered, the Lovot will in turn follow people around and beg for physical contact as a sign of affection, though it will stay away from those who treat it violently, Groove X officials say.

Sensors fitted all over its body allow it to react to stroking, tickling or warm embraces, while a thermographic camera on its head allows it to distinguish human from mannequin. Its body temperature is kept between 36 and 38 degrees by releasing mechanical heat produced internally.

Groove X believes the Lovot can cater to the demands of families who want a pet but can’t have one because they live in a housing unit where they are banned or have family members with allergies.

Groove official Kana Ienaga said giving children a chance to interact with animals is said to be beneficial and pronounced the Lovot as “one other option.” The robot, she said, can also help prepare children for a future robot-powered society.

The company’s first shipment, a set of two Lovots costing ¥579,800 plus tax, is scheduled for October.

Ienaga said Lovots can interact with one another and develop different personalities. If one Lovot detects the other receiving more than its fair share of attention, “it can become bad-tempered out of jealousy.”

Each robot sells for ¥299,800 plus tax, with shipments slated to begin at the end of December. Monthly update and maintenance fees from ¥8,980 to ¥36,360 are also necessary for each individual robot or pair.

The event, which ends July 29, runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is part of a Groove X project to promote the Lovot’s potential in child education via collaborations with Mercedes-Benz Japan and other businesses, as well as educational and research institutes.

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