Cat got our wallets?

As robots get a lot of flak for stealing jobs and the debate of automation’s role in human society continues well into the 2020 decade, robot companions still play a role in Japanese society, which is burdened with a declining birthrate and an increasing population of long-living elders. While Japan’s health care industry is currently experiencing a shortage in able professionals, many senior citizens also face another type of challenge: a lack of companionship.

Digirect, a leading Japanese provider of companion robots, seeks to meet this need by expanding on their product line with Neko-chan. Part of the Amaenbo series, with Amaenbo roughly translating to “spoiled child,” Neko-chan (the Japanese word for “kitty”) is a fluffy white cat who is definitely expressive about being pampered with all the pets and pats.

With over 100 different recorded cat noises and five sensors registering sound, touch, and sight, Neko-chan reacts accordingly to its owner’s actions and words, even shifting its paws or moving its tail in pleasure (or displeasure). The cat robot companion also comes with voice recognition software and as more time passes between Neko-chan and its human owner, Neko-chan will adapt its meows and physical responses.

▼ Users can choose between five different modes: Special Mode, Growth by Touch Mode, Wake ・ Sleep Mode, Relaxed Mode, and Vocal Mode.

Though the default name of the robot companion is Neko-chan, owners can give their own Neko-chan a unique name that the cat robot will register, remember, and recognize. From its soft fur to mild movements, we can easily see why Neko-chan could be a good addition to not just senior centers but also to families with members who suffer from allergies or who aren’t able to own an actual cat.

▼ That slightly glazed stare does make us wonder what Neko-chan may be truly plotting in its AI-powered brain.

Priced at 19,800 yen ($US180), Neko-chan can be purchased nationwide via department stores, toy stores, and at stores specializing in supplies for senior health care. While we’ll never know if the next robot uprising will include these cute cat robots, for the time being robots have been giving us humans a hand at matchmaking events and have even provided new opportunities for those with disability.

Source, images: @Press
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