Humans are social creatures: technology cannot replace real interactions.
But when we can’t meet face-to-face or when we need to stay away from each other for our own good, it can help make communication a little better between us.
For decades, Japan has been a world leader in technology, and especially electronics. This is proving valuable during the Covid-19 pandemic as the country has discovered technology as a way to improve communication between people.
Robots for the elderly
Shizuoka is famous for its tea plantations and spectacular views of Mount Fuji. The provincial town of Fujieda offers its 140,000 residents a high quality of life.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of its elderly residents living alone or in cure homes cannot be visited by their families and friends. There are concerns that this may affect their mental health.
So the municipality can hire them an extraordinary escort — PaPeRo.
Natsume Emiko, a Fujieda resident, said, “When I wake up in the morning, having Papero by my side makes me talk naturally.”
“It gives me the impression that I’m starting the morning with a conversation that makes me feel less alone.”
Thanks to its artificial intelligence-based speech recognition function, the baby-sized robot helps senior citizens chat.
It also keeps them in touch with loved ones by sending text messages or photos and can be used for health tracking by identifying changes in their activity patterns.
Fujieda was one of the first cities in Japan to pilot this plan at the height of the epidemic.
Makita Tsuyoshi, department head of Fujieda City, explains, “PaPeRo can take pictures to send to relatives who live far away. First, a photo of a collapsed grandmother was sent to the family.”
“So they called her right away and found out she had a fracture and couldn’t move. So through PaPeRo they knew it was an emergency and they were able to take the grandmother to the doctors.
For the makers of Papero, Japanese information technology and electronics company NEC CompanyRobots like Papero can, paradoxically, enable people to connect better.
“I started developing Papero because my mom lived far away and I wanted a way to keep an eye on her. It’s sad to live alone – that’s why people want someone to talk to,” says Matsuda Tsuguhiro, a Papero developer and digital network executive specialist. Division of NEC Corporation.
“People use the free-to-talk function an average of 15 times a day, and for some, more than 50 times.”
Innovation tends to accelerate in times of crisis. This Japanese startup was trialling translation robots to assist tourists at airports before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the project has come to a standstill.
With most of the world wearing face masks against the coronavirus, the company thought they might seize the opportunity to use the software they developed to create a smart mask.
Donut RoboticsHe says that the C-FACE mask is the first mask in the world to connect to the internet via Bluetooth.
“We were thinking about what we could do as a robotics company and we thought we could make a mask that could connect to a smartphone, help maintain social distancing, digitize sounds or communicate. So we decided to develop it,” said Ono Taisuke, CEO of Donut Robotics.
In conjunction with an application on a device, the mask can translate speech into several languages, amplify the user’s voice, or transcribe dictation, thanks to its built-in microphone.