We all know that Japan is the master of robots. Between Sony’s sprinting QRIO, Toyota’s musical Partner Robots, and Honda’s now retired Asimo, Japan clearly deserves its reputation as the world pioneer in the robotics field. And now, they will once again be leading the way by opening an experimental robot avatar cafe, with an inspiring purpose.
DAWN Cafe (Diverse Avatar Working Network) in Akasaka, Tokyo, will be staffed by robot avatars remotely controlled by people with severe disabilities, including patients with ALS. Powered by real intelligence, the robot avatars will be able to take your order, bring you your food and drinks, and respond to any questions or requests.
The cafe, which will have a trial run open to the public in November, has three aims: 1) to provide a model to show how people with severe disabilities can work, 2) to provide employment opportunities for people otherwise unable to work, and 3) to someday open a full-time cafe staffed by avatar robots. The robots they’ll be using at DAWN Cafe are called OriHime, which are produced by a Tokyo startup called OryLab Inc.
One of these OriHime robots was used just last April by Takanobu Nagaoka, a 55-year-old high school teacher who was diagnosed with ALS a couple of years ago. He was unable to travel due to his worsening condition, but by using the OriHime robot, he could remotely attend his school’s graduation and congratulate his students.
OriHime can be used not only by hospitalized people but students who refuse to go to school and even mothers who cannot go to work because they’re taking care of kids.
In an interview with CNBC, the CEO of OryLab Kentaro Yoshifuji said he believes these robots have the potential to both help disabled people, as well as others that face challenges with working: “OriHime can be used not only by hospitalized people but students who refuse to go to school and even mothers who cannot go to work because they’re taking care of kids.”
“This technology could help redistribute manpower so the right person can work in the right place in a more smooth fashion,” he added.
In a country with an aging population and dwindling workforce, solutions allowing more people to fill Japan’s need for workers like OriHime are indispensable. If DAWN Cafe’s experiment is successful and robot avatars’ use extends to other cafes and other markets, it could be great not only for reintegrating disabled people into the workforce but also for the workforce itself. Society has a long history of marginalizing capable workers due to disability, race, gender or religion. DAWN is a hopeful sign that the future is not about automation but instead — emancipation.
DAWN Cafe will be holding two trial sessions in the next few months: one from Nov. 26-30 and another Dec. 3-7. You can find more information about DAWN Cafe on their homepage, and find more about the OriHime robot avatars they’ll be using here.