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.
Maezawa also expressed hope in his statement that Groove X can soon start delivering its robot beyond Japan. GrooveX declined to make Maezawa or anyone else available for interview, citing scheduling reasons.
It may seem like something out of science fiction, but some researchers say there is a lot of potential for robots to become beloved human companions.
“There’s a substantial amount of research in human-robot interaction that shows that people can develop genuine emotional attachments to robots, and that this is something that can be intentionally encouraged through design,” Kate Darling, a personal robotics research specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, told CNN Business.
“We are very relational creatures,” Darling said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that people can and will emotionally relate to robots in the future.”
Darling notes that social robots — or robots that are intentionally designed to engage people on a socio-emotional level — haven’t taken off in a big way yet in the United States. “But I think it’s only a matter of time, and clearly so do these companies,” she added.