Café Using Remotely-Controlled Robot Waiters to Open in Tokyo

Robots allow physically-disabled people to work and interact with other people from their homes

A white human-like robot with a display attached to its chest.
A robot in action in Japan
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A café using robot waiters remotely-controlled by people with disabilities will open in Tokyo in November. The temporary café will be situated in Tokyo’s Akasaka district where customers can visit on weekdays from November 26 to December 7.

The robot waiters, known as OriHime, will act as proxies for people with severe physical disabilities, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease, and other illnesses that restrict mobility. These people will be able to work as waiters and interact with customers via the robots, from wherever they are.

How do the robot waiters work

The robots, measuring 1.2 meters in height and weighing 20kg, will use the internet to transmit video and audio from the café to the operator. That way, they can be controlled from the person’s home using tablets or computers.

The OriHime robots were created by Ory Lab Inc, a company set up in 2012. The CEO, Kentaro Yoshifuji, wants to create a world where people who can’t move their bodies can also work and contribute to society.

The robot was debuted in August by Nozomi Murata, who has autophagic vacuolar myopathy, which is a debilitating disease that weakens the muscles. Murata successfully served hot chocolate to a family using the robot.

The goal was to create a robot that could combat the loneliness felt by people who are stuck in hospitals

Where the OriHime idea came from

Yoshifuji himself suffered a stress-induced illness when he was young that left him unable to live a normal, active life for three and a half years and caused him great difficulty communicating with his family.

As a result of his feelings of isolation during his time spent in a hospital, he decided to develop robots while he was studying at Waseda University. His goal was to create a robot that could combat the loneliness felt by people who are stuck in hospitals or staying alone at home due to illness or old age.

Yoshifuji didn’t want to make an AI robot to keep people company. He wanted to connect humans to humans instead so that people who are ill do not have to experience isolation and they can also have the opportunity to contribute to society. The OriHime robots allow people to do that. They can move around and see, hear and talk to anyone close to the robot.

Smaller OriHime robots have already been put to use

Already, smaller OriHime robots, measuring 21.5cm and weighing 600grams, have been adopted by 70 companies to allow people to telecommute. They can also be used by children who are unable to attend school due to illness. By using the robot the child can be in class with their friends and actually contribute by answering questions through OriHime.

Ory Lab aims to set up a permanent café and promote the adoption of their robots in more areas in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Yoshifuji’s OriHime robots are certainly a tool that can improve the lives of those suffering from debilitating illness and allow them to contribute to society in a way that they have been restricted from doing up until now. Maybe in the very near future, we will all have OriHimes running around our offices and schools with people carrying out their daily tasks, remotely.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Robots continue to make the seemingly impossible possible.

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and Journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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