In a bid to boost the flagging Japanese birthrates, one company has introduced a practice baby, the "Yotaro robotic baby simulator," that makes it all look easy. And really freaky.
The Yotaro was described by Design Boom as
the result of research at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, led by Hiroki Kunimura. Yotaro is an interactive robot that portrays a variety of facial expressions, movements and physiological characteristics all natural to babies. The device reacts to the user through a sophisticated emotion-control system that watches and senses what they are doing and provides an accompanying reaction. that baby can do a variety of things that make it much more sophisticated than the standard baby training dolls, like crying real tears on its 2-d face.
It can giggle and sneeze, although the inventors left it deliberately pre-verbal to keep bonding uncomplicated.
Says the Daily Beast's Lisa Grunwald,
The idea behind Yotaro is exactly the opposite of the idea behind the RealCare Baby, an American counterpart. In Japan, where the birth rate is falling at an alarming pace, Yotaro is intended to show citizens (one wonders in what context) just how beguiling, responsive, and rewarding babies can be. Which may be why the only bodily fluid emanating from Yotaro is the warm water that comes from its eyes and nose now and then.
As Grunwald points out, it's kind of like a cuddly Tamagotchi, those bitty electronic "pets" that always struck me as particularly unrewarding, like a demanding pet rock. The idea is that cuddling this inanimate object will get you in the mood for the real thing. But questions of bonding aside - will people really find this appealing, even as a cuddle toy? For one thing, it glows like a monstrous phosphorescent Teletubby with a dash of Stewie Griffin. As the inventor said, "Yotaro is a robot with which you can experience physical contact just like with a real baby and reproduce the same feelings." But with a face only a mother could love, surrogates may have a hard time warming up. Only someone who's never seen a real baby is in danger of mistaking the two, and I'm not sure that person (who really could only be "Nell") should be considering parenthood. Anyway, we've always foundnd Baby Gap ads are the most useful tool in this regard.