Our personal lives highly revolve around technological advancements.
The CEO of Ory Laboratory, 27-year-old Kentaro Yoshifuji, grew up suffering physically and mentally due to stress and illness. He was not able to attend primary school for three and a half years because he felt isolated and suffered social stigma from fellow students. He became fixated to these feelings, but despite these difficulties, Yoshifuji’s experiences in childhood inspired him to begin experimenting with artificial intelligence technologies.
When the Ory Laboratory opened in 2012, not many people understood the concept of their work. The original purpose was to solely diminish the feeling of isolation of those with severe disabilities that places restrictions on their movement. However, with Yoshifuji’s determination, the support of friends and angel investors, the company began to develop the OriHime Robot, designed to create a human-to-human connection to address the loneliness Yoshifuji felt as a child.
The robot acts as a long-distance communication device that can be controlled on most smartphones, tablets, and computers. The AI in the robot allows the user to see, hear, talk, and express themselves by transmitting video images and audio online. This means that a student, who may be chronically ill and unable to attend school, can place this device in their classroom to observe and interact with fellow students, while still at home recovering.
This past November, DAWN ver.β, a pop-up cafe, opened in the Minato Ward of Tokyo. Ten people with severe disabilities such as ALS or other spinal cord injuries were hired to control and direct five of the four-feet-tall OriHime Robots from their respective homes. Meanwhile, customers back at the cafe sat at tables and waited for the robots to appear. Then, OriHime robots took the orders and served them their food. The participants were paid a standard part-time job wage in Japan of $9.20 per hour. Unfortunately, the cafe only lasted until December, but now Ory Lab is trying to raise money to build a more permanent cafe. Their goal is to open in 2020.
The preliminary purpose of OriHime robots is to prevent loneliness and to encourage independence.
According to Tech In Asia, CEO Kentaro Yoshifuji states, “In the future, by using this kind of avatar robot, I want to increase the number of cases where those unable to go outside, and who are usually not recognized by society, can start being more socially active.”
His creation may very well end up providing an opportunity for people with a mobility disability to socially interact and cultivate a sense of inclusivity. If that happens, it will pave a brighter path for the severely disabled to be able to contribute to society and to become a service to those who are not disabled.