For generations, filmmakers have dreamt up stories of sentient robots as best friends, be it an R2D2 from Star Wars or a robotic sibling like VICKI from the popular 80s series Small Wonder. While a Baymax or Wall-E that saves the humans might not be commercially available yet, startups and investors are waking up to the market potential of robotic child companions for busy parents already.
Globally, a number of similar robots are in use for discharging activities ranging from home assistants to senior citizens and helping people with learning disabilities. In fact, in Japan, Softbank’s Mobile stores use a robot called Pepper to assist customers. AV1, an AI-based robot by a Norwegian startup is also helping reduce loneliness among children hospitalised with chronic illness.
On Tuesday, Mumbai based startup Emotix, an advanced robotics company founded by three IITians, has also launched a conversational child companion robot, Miko2.
In a world of working parents and technology fatigue, founders Sneh Vaswani, Prashant Iyengar and Chintan Raikar envisioned Miko to be something/someone that the child can converse with while also improving their cognitive skills.
“We created a virtual community of users, including people who used Miko (first version) to understand the kind of expectations that parents and children have to design the robot,” said Vaswani.
The robot can hold long conversations, track the child’s mood and is controlled from an app on the parents’ smartphone.
Miko (launched in 2017) which retails at Rs 19,000, is already witnessing 30per cent month-on-month growth in sales. The Miko 2 will retail for Rs 24,999 per unit and will retail exclusively from toy store chain Hamleys from December 15 next month and will be commercially available across other stores and ecommerce platforms from January 15 next year.
While Miko 2 currently only supports English language conversation, the company is planning to introduce other languages in the long-term. “We plan to start Hindi language support within the next four months,” said Vaswani.
Emotix has roped in veteran child psychologist Dr. Mona Gajre and IITB professor emeritus Dr C Amarnath (robotics) to consult and shape the robot’s behaviour. The startup also plans to take the artificial intelligence (AI) based robot to global markets across China, West Asia, the US and Europe by next year.
“The product is designed, developed and patented in India while the assembly is split across China, Taiwan, and we will shortly start production in India,” said the company.
The friendly robot, is aimed at catering to early education development of children, also comes preloaded with content from the likes of Amar Chitra Katha, ICSE curriculum and even stories from storytelling app Storywalker.
“We have an app store model where parents can get more learning and engagement apps for kids but we aren’t going for just any educational or child-friendly content. As the basic idea is to have a conversational robot, any content will need to have a conversation aspect to it,” added Vaswani.
Earlier in the year, Emotix raised around $2 million in its first funding round led by IDG Ventures India, Sunil Goyal-led YourNest and existing investor Keshav Murugesh who is the Group CEO of business process management company WNS Global Services.