Eccentric Japanese billionaire now betting that ’emotional’ robots can heal your heart -- Apr 09
Nearly two years before Japanese fashion titan Yusaku Maezawa embarked on his recent tourist visit to the International Space Station, he made global headlines for launching a worldwide search for a “life partner” to go to the moon with him.

In his online appeal for love, Maezawa, who was 44 at the time, said he hoped finding a companion would ease the “feelings of loneliness and emptiness” surging within him. A few months later, however, he abruptly called off this quest for a romantic partner due to unspecified personal reasons.

Now, it appears Maezawa is betting robots may be able to fill the hole in one’s heart.

The eccentric billionaire, who made his fortune through the Japanese e-commerce fashion site Zozotown, announced last month that his investment fund is buying Japanese robotics startup Groove X, which makes a product called Lovot, a combination of the words “love” and “robot.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The pet-sized companion robots aim to stir an “instinct to love” in its human customers, according to the company’s website, with potential use cases in nursing homes and with children. As the pandemic raged, the so-called “emotional” robots also found new purpose in providing companionship to those who have been forced to stay apart from others, according to the company.

The wide-eyed devices roll around on wheels and have more than 50 sensors to respond to stimuli from humans (whom it distinguishes via a thermal camera) through machine learning technology, according to the company. The robot is currently only available for sale in Japan. The price starts at $2,825 for a single device, plus a monthly service fee of approximately $80.

Groove X was founded in 2015 by CEO Kaname Hayashi, a SoftBank veteran who developed the humanoid robot Pepper. The firm received funding from the Japanese government and unveiled its first Lovot device to the local market in 2019. These robots don’t seek to provide any convenience or practical purpose. In fact, the company has previously described it as “not a useful robot.” The robot was “born for just one reason — to be loved by you,” the company said. ...continue reading