Track 3: Software-based Para-social APPs

Digital Humanoid forms=

3-1:  Azuma Hikari/Hatsune Miku emotional companion (2018) Gatebox [] The Gatebox system is a holographic emotional companion, without a physical presence (other than the holographic projector).  The holographic projector is linked to a APP which integrates an AI companion with a texting conversation mode.  The Gatebox system is specifically designed as an emotional-social ‘partner’ to provide companionship for lonely singles.  As of late 2018 an option will be to have Hatsune Miku as the avatar companion.



3-2:  Hatsume Miku-Vocaloids.  Crypton Future Media’s [] Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloids are a blend of audio software (the Vocaloid APP) and a holographic projection of the avatars.  Popular throughout much of Asia since 2009, the “live” performances have been consistently successful and ‘she’ remains one of Japan’s top pop stars. As of 2018 the Hatsune Miku avatar has become one optional avatar for the Gatebox system (3-1).


hatsune miku



This Track consists of robots who have been designed with emotional comfort as a key component, more so than accurate emulation of human appearance.  A recent trend is to provide a Alexa-type functionality so that the bots are both more “interactive”and also potentially more useful, rather like a cuddly Echo device.  This also allows for the impression of a more complex bot without having to develop specialized software, but it does make them WiFi dependent.  There are four categories within this Track: Humanoid forms; robotic forms; zoomorphic forms; pet surrogate forms

Track 2 Branch 1: Humanoid forms:

2-1-1:  Bandai Primopuel doll (1999)[$N/A JTrendShop]  Interactive Primopuel Doll – “Heart Motive … The popular Primopuel brand by Bandai has been known in Japan since 1999. Since that time, these dolls have become more intelligent and movable. Here, you can get the top-model of this series. The doll moves her arms up and gives a replay with a lovely voice if somebody speaks to her. Even singing a song is possible! It’s a great interactive toy! The language of the doll is originally Japanese, making this collectible so unique. Both the user and the doll can learn together from each other!” [JTrendShop]



2-1-2:  Dream Supply Snuggling Ifbot (2004)[N/A] out of production since 2005(?).  It isn’t clear whether this moved from prototype to full production, but it was apparently based on the same design goals as the Primopuel or Yumel dolls.


2-1-3:  Takara Tomy Yumel (m)/Nerul (f) Sleep Assistance Robot (2006)[N/A-out of production]  “Tomy is coming out with the Yumel, a “healing partner” with a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases that sells for 8,500 yen and is designed to keep you company. It’ll greet you when you wake up in the morning—it has six built-in sensors for keep tracking of its owner’s sleeping patterns—but the downside is that if you start raging all night or oversleeping or ignoring it or whatever the doll will ask you if you’re pushing yourself too hard. And if you treat it right? The Yumel will sing you songs and harrass you into buying it presents.”  [Yumel is the central doll below].



2-1-4:  Ask Amy Interactive Emotional Educational Doll [].  “Ask Amy is so much more than an adorable articulating 22-inch doll. Her life-like moving lips, blinking eyes, head movements, and interactive discussion will amaze children and promote self-esteem and empathy. Encouraging emotional and language development, Ask Amy responds to 12 verbal prompts to answer questions, provide words of inspiration, and motivates children to sing along or recite a variety of poems. She also loves to cuddle and can sit upright in a chair, on the bed, in the car, etc.”


Ask Amy Doll

Track 2 Branch 2: Robot forms =

2-2-1a:  Robi Robot [$2290 JTrendShop] “Standing at 34 cm (13.4″) in height, Robi will be like a child in your home. No programming is required to the pre-assembled Robi, meaning he is the ideal companion for people who aren’t total tech experts but still love robots. Check out the way he can get up.

He has about 200 phrases he can say (Japanese only but still cute!) as he responds to humans using the sensors in his eyes. He will even sing and dance if you put on music. He can also act as a TV remote control, changing channels for you via his internal module. Plus see how human-like and realistic his walking movements are!”


Robi Robot2

2-2-1b:  Robi Jr. Mini Robot–TakaraTomy [$366 JTrendShop]  “Based on the original self-assembly Robi robot by Tomotaka Takahashi, the Robi Jr. is the cute new mini version by Takara Tomy. This little fellow is more than just a toy. He’s a household friend who can speak, sing, move his arms and head. He talks to you using around 1,000 phrases and can even understand certain expressions.

Call his name to get his attention. While he can only speak in Japanese, he offers fortune-telling, seasonal phrases, comments about the time of day, and more.

His eyes flash in different colors so you can see his mood. With his infrared sensors he can also detect where you are and turn to face you when he speaks.”


Robi Jr Robot

2-2-1c:  Motto Nayayoshi Robi Jr. variant, TakaraTomy [$261 JTrendShop] “Motto Nayayoshi Robi Jr. stays seated but can move its head and flash its eyes in a cute way that will delight and entertain you every day. It also says different things (in Japanese) at different times of the year, acting like a friend who keeps you company.”


motto nayayoshi robi

2-2-2:  Kirobo Mini Robot-Toyota [$689 JTrendShop]  “Toyota has teamed up Tomotaka Takahashi, the man behind the bestselling Robi and many other innovative robots, to create Kirobo Mini. This cute little robot is a miniature version of the Kirobo, Japan’s first robotic astronaut developed by Takahashi to accompany Koichi Wakata into space.

The palm-sized Kirobo Mini wobbles, gestures, blinks, speaks in a unique voice, and responds emotionally to you. Proving that robots can be both cute and useful, Kirobo Mini recognizes your voice and serves as your communication partner at home, work or in the car.”


Kirobo mini robot

Track 2 Branch 3: Zoomorphic Empathic forms:

2-3-1:  Paro Seal Therapeutic Robot (2003)[$5-6000, N/A JTrend Shop] [].  Developed at the same time as the Yumel doll as part of the METI Ministry project, the Paro Seal Therapeutic Robot (2003) was designed to provide an alternative to traditional live-animal therapy.

“Modeled after a baby harp seal, the Paro Robot Seal Healing Pet is one of best things we have ever sold on JapanTrendShop, not least as it is such a high quality product but also because it is so well-intentioned. Paro is a seal that is designed not simply to be a cool robotic animal, but to actually communicate with people and make their lives better.

Now Paro is available in two new colors, pink and gray. As with the white and gold model, it can move its head in multiple directions, plus its front and rear flippers. Paro’s blinking eyes give off realistic emotional facial expressions and its sensors can recognize touch, light, temperature and posture. Just stroke Paro and you will experience a robotic pet more responsive than you ever imagined, perhaps as close as humanity has come yet to a robot conscious of itself and the people around it.”



2-3-2:  Joy For All Companion Cat/Dog [$100-120 Amazon].  “Hasbro has developed a new toy line, called Joy For All Companion Pets, for senior citizens in need of companionship who aren’t able to care for a real animal. These robotic cats look, feel, and act pretty much like the real thing—they don’t walk, but thanks to built-in sensors, they purr and nuzzle when touched; they also meow, sleep, and roll over for belly rubs. The companion pets are available in three varieties (orange tabby, silver with white mitts, and creamy white) and retail for $100.  There is also a dog version.”

YTube cat=


YTube dog=


2-3-3:  Omnibot OHaNAS Robot Pet [$275 JTrendShop]  “Created by Takara Tomy as part of the Omnibot series of robots in partnership with Japanese phone carrier NTT DoCoMo, the OHaNAS is like a small sheep that speaks to you (the name means “talking”). It understands greetings and responds to friendly physical contact like stroking. It also chats to you about the weather, time of year, etc. It can be used as music player and also remembers user information. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth and can even go online to look up basic questions that you want to ask. The eyes also light up in a range of colors to let you know its mood!”



2-3-4:  Hug-and-Dream Micky Mouse from TakaraTomy [$60 JTrendShop].  “TakaraTomy’s first Hug and Dream sleeping robot in a Minnie Mouse design was a big hit around the world, and now here is a follow-up – not surprisingly, it’s Mickey Mouse. This doll is designed by scientists to help with an infant’s breathing as he or she sleeps. Better respiration means better dreams and a better night’s rest.

Your child will hug Mickey, who “breathes” in rhythm with them, assisting them to calm down and get into a neurologically appropriate state for sleep. The world’s most famous mouse is the ideal companion to help guide your special one to an uninterpreted slumber that will help them recharge for the activities the next day will bring.”


2-3-5: Qoobo Robotic Cat Tail Pillow (2018)[$183 JTrendShop].  “Yukai Engineering Qoobo has to be one of the most unique additions to the pantheon of Japanese robotics we’ve ever seen. Stroke the “headless cat” pillow and feel its response to your touch, which mimics the natural behavior of a cat tail. The furry contact and interactive character of the Qoobo tail will soon make it an indispensable part of your domestic life. Joining the likes of the Paro and Yume Neko Dream Cat, the Qoobo is intended as a therapeutic pet-style robot to comfort and cheer you up.”



2-3-6:  Hugvie Huggable Cushion Robotic Companion [$148 JTrendShop]  “Relieve stress and sleep better thanks to this “communication media” cushion from Japan, created by a special partnership of robot engineers, a futon vendor and a textile firm. Hugvie (a portmanteau of “hug” and the French word for life) is designed for young kids and grown-ups as a physical way to communicate. You place your phone or other device into the pocket in the head and then embrace it. The hug-pillow shape becomes an interactive communication media, helping to stimulate an emotional response so the user experiences another human presence even if they are alone.

Equipped with head, torso and limbs, the simple cushion is an ideal communication device for long-distance relationships! Kids could also be soothed by the sound of their mother’s voice before they sleep. Based on a robot originally developed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), there are two versions in different sizes, one for kids and a regular size Hugvie for grown-ups. The cushion materials are also optimally designed to be more huggable.”




Track 2 Branch 4: Zoomorphic Pet Surrogates, not intentionally Empathic:

2-4-1:  Healing Partner Dacky [$N/A JTrendShop]–TakaraTomy’s Dog variant of Yumel/Nerul companions, (2005?).  New from Takara Tomy, Healing Partner Dacky is the latest in robotic pet communication. Dacky has SIX internal sensors through which he learns about you and develops a personality of his own. Stroking him on his head, back, or paw will elicit certain responses as you get to know him, and he responds with/to verbal communication as well.  Develops a vocabulary of over 650 words and can talk with you (Japanese of course); sings; by being touched, carried, and talked to he develops a personality and matures; adapts to your sleep cycle.


2-4-2:  Aiken Shiba-chan Robotic Dog [$N/A JTrendShop]  “The Aiken Shiba-chan is a robotic version of Japan’s most famous dog, the shiba inu. He can interact with you through 85 different patterns of behavior. The design features 3 types of advanced sensors in 10 places, including the head, back, nose, and paws. The dog responds to sound, brightness, and touch. Vary the way you touch him to see how he responds, including wagging his tail. The robotic pet comes with its own collar and bone. Put the bone in his mouth to make him happy!”



2-4-3:  Himitsu no Kuma-chan Cuddly Bear Robotic Companion [$N/A JTrendShop].  “Himitsu no Kuma-chan (The Secret of Kuma-chan) is a cuddly toy that can communicate in real-time. Himitsu no Kuma-chan may look like an ordinary stuff toy but he’s so much more. Thanks to his unique integrated computer technology, he will respond naturally to greetings in Japanese like “Konnichiwa” and basic questions, making this not only a cute companion but a great way to learn Japanese too. Call him by his name, Kuma-chan, and he will answer!

Available in brown, white or pink, your new “secret” robotic friend will entertain and charm you as it chatters away in Japanese. It can also play word games like Shiritori. You’ll find Kuma-chan’s conversation and responses almost too life-like, you may forget he’s not an actual person!”


2-4-4:  Yume Inu Dream Dog Labrador Retriever [$N/A JTrendShop]  “Continuing Sega Toys’ popular series of robotic pets, the Yume Inu Dream Dog Labrador Retriever is perfect for all ages. Enjoy the canine companionship of a pet pooch without the fuss or hassle a real animal can bring. This adorable labrador reacts when spoken to and will also bark joyfully when stroked. He may even grow sleepy if you give him lots of attention, and he will certainly love it if you give him his squeezy bone toy — even opening his mouth to take it!

Just like a real animal, the white puppy will know when he’s being ignored and will ask for attention. While away the hours at home with your new pet. The cute behavior and responsiveness of the retriever may even have you forgetting that he’s only a toy!”



2-4-5:  KeiTai Wanko Interactive Puppy [$183 JTrendShop]  “TakaraTomy’s Keitai Wanko is a fun interactive dog toy for kids to play with. Just put the mobile phone (keitai) near this cute puppy (wanko) and hear him get excited! The pooch even has a biscuit which he will “eat” audibly when you give it to him.

The Wanko pet can make over 300 different sound effects, all produced by how you interact with him with the two props, meaning kids will never tire of the dog. Just like a real pet only without the hassle or mess! Choose between a pink puppy for girls or a brown poodle for boys.”



2-4-6:  Sakadachi Lucky Robotic Puppy [$108 JTrendShop]  “You’ve never had a pet, or a toy, like this. The Sakadachi Lucky Puppy from Sega responds to 13 different voice commands – not only the basics like “come” and “lie down,” but also “sing” and “headstand.” The headstand is Sakadachi Lucky’s signature move, as sakadachi is the Japanese word for “headstand.” This clever toy dog can bark Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  The Sakadachi Lucky Puppy is part of Sega’s sell-out line of toys that employ modern voice recognition and robotics without sacrificing the cute and cuddly factor. Case in point: Lucky comes with a fuzzy white coat with colorful circus star decorations, a bright pink leash, and hours of fun and wonder in store!”



2-4-7:  Yume Neko Dream Cat Robotic Pet [$252 JTrendShop]  “The best selling Sega’s series of Yume Neko robotic pets continues with this new and improved version of the original feline. The Yume Neko Dream Cat is just like a real animal, interacting with you and able to sense when you are near. This pet makes sounds in response to your behavior and adores it when you use the included comb to stroke its fur. The Yume Neko Dream Cat opens and closes its mouth, blinks its eyes, and moves its ears. It is fitted with sensors in its head, cheeks, stomach, and back that can detect when it is touched. Just don’t grab its tail or it will get angry!”



CURRENT EMPATHIC-COMFORT ROBOTS: Track 1 [Replicants/Androids]

While not comprehensive, the catalog does include most of the currently-available robots.  Each track is organized in reverse chronological order (oldest first).  The catalog has been separated into three tracks of development which mirrors the direction different companies have chosen, and each track is a separate post.  Track 1 [replicants-androids] are those robots which were explicitly designed to be humanoid.  Track 2 is emotive comfort robots, broken down further into humanoid forms, robotic forms, zoomorphic forms, and finally the pet surrogates.  Track 3 [APPs] are the software-based para-social APPs.

It is of interest that there is a fair amount of conformity/improvement rather than pure innovation in much of this work, especially in regards to post-2006 Japanese empathic/comfort bots (such as the current Omnibot series by Takara Tomy and Pets by Sega).  This probably reflects a combination of minimizing development costs, lowering risk and the enormous amount of uncertainty as to actual market interest and consumption. All of these are new. As an example, there is no real way to predict how popular Hasbro’s Joy For All cat will be, what market demographics will be the main consumers and what functions will the cat serve.  Almost all of these devices require WiFi, often Bluetooth, have complicated setups for 1st time users, and have very limited true interactive capabilities. They may be useful, or they may just turn out to be the new Kendama of two years ago or the Fidgit Spinner of last year.

It is worthy of note that some of the most innovative bots came as a result of a government initiative.  The central Japanese government’s METI Ministry covered a significant proportion of the costs for the Yumel-Nerul, Paro and Pepper projects.

A logical move recently has been to cloud-based interaction, as this removes a major issue, that of limited on-board memory and updating the software. The Hanson Professor Einstein is a good example of cloud-based APP systems, though it is also an example of the complicated setup issues (look for reviews on Amazon).


Track 1: “Replicant/Android” Humanoid Robots

1-1:  Ishiguro Hiroshi’s Intelligent Robots Laboratory at Osaka University humanoid robots (Erica, Demoroid HI-1)


1-2:  Softbank Robotics Pepper (7,000+ in use)


1-3:  Softbank Robotics Romeo (2019)[]


1-4: Lovott Groove X (2019)[] Still in initial conceptual product design stage.  Japanese VC startup, founder developed Pepper for Softbank/NTT.

1-5a:  Sophia (2017) from Hanson Robotics [].  Recently in the headlines as in late 2107 ‘she’ was given Saudi citizenship by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Hanson has also developed Professor Einstein tutorial bot.

1-5b:  Professor Einstein Tutorial Robot with Stein-o-Matic tutorial APP.




The current population of emotional devices grow out of several trends within the toy industry.  The oldest would be the stuffed teddy bears of the early 20th century, and the various forms of dolls which go back millenia.  These were all passive and dependent on the imagination of the user.  The second trend would be the fascination In Europe and east Asia with automatons.  These two trends still drive much of the development of robots and emotional devices, with one goal the mimicing of human behavior (such as Hanson’s Sophia), the other goal that of tactile emotional support (Osaka’s Hugvie).  Some current examples of popular interactive pets and humanoids can be seen below.  Descriptions are direct quotes from the respective websites.

Little Live Pets [], a division of Moose Games.  They have a series of interactive pets, with ‘up to 100 different combinations of movements and sounds’, including puppies, kittens, a blue dragon, caged birds etc.



Hasbro FurReal Pets [].  A large collection of kittens, puppies etc. with very variable capabilities, some with “up to 100 different combinations of movements and sounds.’  Very similar in capabilities to the Hasbro Joy For All bots.



Hasbro Furby Friend [ ]:  Get ready to discover a world of surprises with this Furby Connect friend and the Furby Connect World app (see app details below). This Furby Connect friend has a light-up antenna that glows when there’s something new to discover in the app — including music and videos! This Furby Connect friend has lots to say! Even when Furby speaks in Furbish, it’s not hard to figure out what Furby means. This Furby Connect friend has colorful eyes that display more than 150 animations to help express what Furby wants. Interact with a Furby Connect friend by petting, tickling, or shaking Furby, turning Furby upside down, or even moving its antenna like a joystick — then see how Furby reacts! When this Furby Connect friend syncs with the Furby Connect World app, there are more physical and digital ways to interact and more surprises to discover. Does Furby need some beauty sleep? This Furby Connect friend comes with a sleep mask. Just put the sleep mask on, and it’s good night Furby! To wake Furby up, remove the sleep mask — Furby will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for more fun! Get the Furby Connect World app to explore a world of surprises with a Furby Connect friend. Watch videos together, feed Furby with the app, and raise virtual Furblings in the app. The Furby Connect friend gets updates and new content by connecting to the app!



Teddy Ruxpin (1986/2017 revision): [].  Everyone’s favorite storytelling bear is back–smart, innovative, cuddly, and more magical than ever.  Parents and grandparents will remember Teddy Ruxpin from the 1980s…this is the classic story-telling bear is updated with modern technology…  Named one of the top 100 toys of all time by Time magazine… Re-imagined for today’s kids, this contemporary version of the iconic toy recreates the magic of the original with animatronic features and a free app that enables children to follow along with the narratives.

Plus, Teddy connects to a smartphone of tablet via Bluetooth.  He tells original tales with life-like animation using over 40 colorful LCD eye expressions and an animatronic mouth that moves in synchronization with the audio.  A touch of his paws allows kids to easily select a story and play or pause it…

Teddy Ruxpin features:  Three original stories already unlocked with purchase, seven additional stories available to purchase in the free Teddy Ruxpin app, color LCD eyes with over 40 animations!  A motorized mouth that syncs to Teddy’s speech; touch sensors allow kids to control the story & songs; two Modes of Play: with or without the free app!; travel with Teddy anytime, anywhere! Wifi not required.

YTube (1986 version)=

YTube (2017 version)=


LuvaBella Baby Doll [ ]:  Discover so many real baby surprises with Luvabella! From the moment she opens her eyes and giggles, Luvabella will amaze you with her true-to-life facial expressions and personality! She moves, talks and plays just like a real baby. Through touch and play she affectionately responds to your love! Cover her eyes for a game of peek-a-boo, tickle her tummy and toes to make her giggle, or place a hand on her chest to gently listen to her heartbeat. You can even hold her feet to hear her say “mama” and begin to babble! The more you play with her, the more she’ll talk! Her babble will transform into over 100 clear words and phrases! Caring for Luvabella is fun with her four interactive accessories! Use her spoon to feed her and she’ll chew with delight! If she’s not full, she may ask you for more! After her meal, help Luvabella learn new animal names and sounds with her Lamby toy! If she gets fussy, all she needs is her soother. When it’s time to go to bed after a big day of play, lull her to sleep with her bottle. Get to know all of Luvabella’s real baby surprises!