Every automaker wants to be a lifestyle brand, but Toyota is showing that it really means this.
At the Paris Motor Show this week, the company has unveiled a tiny $400 robot, dubbed Kirobo Mini, which reacts to human emotions and provides “companionship” to people. Fortune said the pint-sized creation was “designed as a synthetic baby companion in Japan, where plummeting birth rates have left many women childless.”
Toyota’s petite companion is charming attendees at the show ahead of release in Japan next year as a driving and home companion.
Available at Toyota dealerships in Tokyo beginning next year, the adorable, doe-eyed, plastic-and-metal, squeaky-voiced Kirobi Mini can hold basic conversations while blinking and moving its limbs.
It also comes with a cradle that fits in a car’s cupholder or on the passenger seat, “helping fulfill its role as a cuddly companion always on hand for heart-touching communication,” as Toyota notes in its press release.
Toyota describes it as a “compact-sized communication partner bringing smiles to their owners’ faces through daily exchanges in an evolving relationship,” but it’s unclear what Toyota hopes to get out of this.
One automotive application is a quasi-safety feature in which the robot says, “That was scary!” if the driver—of a Toyota, presumably—brakes suddenly. But there’s no predictive warning, for example, if the car speeds up.
The company said it hopes to make communication between humans and machines more like communication between people, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Or maybe it’ll actually be Kirobo Mini—which it first previewed at the 2015 Paris Motor Show—behind the wheel of Toyota’s first “self-driving” car. Below, the slew of videos that Toyota released to demonstrate its little AI: