24th Entertainment Division Social Impact Award
AVATAR ROBOT CAFE
‟AVATAR ROBOT CAFE” Production Team (YOSHIFUJI Kentaro, Representative)［Japan］
In this social project, OriHime, an avatar robot that can be remotely operated by bedridden or mobility impaired people, was developed and implemented to promote employment of persons with disabilities. This user-friendly robot is designed to accommodate a variety of physical disorders, enabling input through eye-gaze, mouse, and smartphone. Supported by corporate sponsorships and crowdfunding, a three-week pop-up café called “AVATAR ROBOT CAFE” was opened in the Otemachi in Tokyo in October 2019. Thirty people with disabilities and people who have difficulty going out served customers through OriHime. Some of the participants got jobs as a result of this project. With wide media coverage, this project had a large social impact. The employment rate for the physically challenged in Japan is about five percent, and many of these people abandon their hopes of getting corporate jobs. While expectations are rising for robots as a solution to the labor shortage, this project posed questions and presented a solution to a society where the employment of persons with disabilities is insufficient.
One of my recent interests is the direction of technological development. Our future lives largely rely on this direction, which depends on who develops technologies and who will be empowered. The concept of remotely controlled bodies has been around since the 1970s in sci-fi novels, and mass-produced robots have penetrated into society. However, I wonder how many people have actually developed or applied robots to support the social independence of people with disabilities. This project brought hope to address these people’s fears of being completely paralyzed. The technology can also become essential for many other people who have never thought of the possibilities of becoming socially vulnerable, if an even more severe pandemic occurs in the future, for example. I hope the research and social implementation will further develop. (HASEGAWA Ai)