Japan deserves its reputation as the world pioneer in the robotics field. And now, this newest initiative serves a more inspiring purpose.
In a country with an aging population and a diminishing workforce, Japan definitely needs more workers. Enter OriHime-D, cafe robots launched at a trial period last November 2019 in DAWN Cafe (Diverse Avatar Working Network) at Akasaka, Tokyo. They are manipulated remotely by disabled people to operating a computer connected to the robots. The robots in the café have cameras that capture images of their environment, and the human operators interact with customers by taking their orders, answering queries, and engaging them in friendly banter.
During the trial run, 10 people with severe disabilities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) from around the country took turns operating the robots, and yes, they received hourly pay for their work.
DAWN Café’s aim is to show how people with severe disabilities can contribute to society, as well as to provide employment opportunities for those unable to work at a different physical location. Another one of their goals is to open a full-time cafe manned by avatar robots in the future. DAWN Cafe and its robots OriHime-D opened as a pilot project between Ory Lab, the Nippon Foundation, and ANA Holdings Inc. partially through a crowdfunding campaign.
In an interview, the CEO of OryLab Kentaro Yoshifuji said that he believes these robots have the potential to both help disabled people, as well as others who have challenges with working at a certain physical location. “I want people with disabilities to know that they can work even if they can’t move their body or go outside,” Yoshifuji said. “At the same time, I want everyone to know that there are many people who want to work even though they can’t move. If they have an opportunity to get a job, it gives them confidence as people who are needed.”
He added, “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 the meantime, let’s all hope that a permanent cafe may be opened soon to provide more jobs for people with disabilities.