March 18, 2017 1:00 pm JST

Kokoro the smiling robot wants to sell you travel insurance

The company behind Hello Kitty is testing cloud tech at Tokyo's Narita Airport

MAYUMI HIROSAWA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Narita Airport, Tokyo's main international gateway, has a new employee. Her name is Kokoro, and while she specializes in hawking insurance, she is more than happy to give directions to the nearest restroom or restaurant. If she sounds a little stilted at times or her gaze is a bit distant, it's not because she's bored, it's because she's a robot.

Developed by Hello Kitty creator Sanrio and software company Kyoei Sangyo, Kokoro is being used on a trial basis at a counter selling overseas travel insurance on the fourth floor of the south wing of Terminal 1.

Travelers who approach Kokoro will see a gently smiling young "woman" with shoulder-length black hair dressed in a smart suit accented by a scarf. They will see no legs, as Kokoro sits behind a counter. Before every interaction, she instructs the visitor to first choose a language, either Japanese or English.

In one interaction, Kokoro warned that uninsured travelers visiting Hawaii would be hit with a hefty bill of 50,000 yen ($441) should they need to call an ambulance there.

Kokoro works for Greenport Agency, which operates insurance sales and foreign currency exchange services. Her job is to encourage travelers to buy travel insurance. Some 10% of people flying abroad from Narita do not take out such policies.

But she does more than pitch products and dispense advice about international medical situations. Kokoro is also adept at giving directions to destinations on the fourth floor. When asked where the restroom is, she promptly responds that it is right behind her counter.

Kokoro may be new to airports, but this is not her first employment gig. It is, however, the first time she is using technology that converts words spoken by customers to text, which is then accumulated in the cloud for analysis. That amassed information will be used to develop services to provide answers to frequently asked questions.

During the first week of trials at the airport, the most commonly used word by customers was "Japanese," as that was the option most people chose when initially told to select a language. Besides insurance, Kokoro was also often asked about bathrooms and restaurants in Terminal 1.

Upgrades will be made by July to enable smoother speech and otherwise improve Kokoro's conversational skills.

Placing a robot like Kokoro at strategic locations within the airport could be a huge help for tourists looking for assistance. 

The robot and cloud system have an estimated price tag of 9 million yen.

Sanrio Co., Ltd.

Japan

Market(Ticker): TKS(8136)
Sector:
Industry:
Consumer Non-Durables
Consumer Sundries
Market cap(USD): 1,702.66M
Shares: 89.06M

Kyoei Sangyo Co., Ltd.

Japan

Market(Ticker): TKS(6973)
Sector:
Industry:
Distribution Services
Electronics Distributors
Market cap(USD): 53.41M
Shares: 31.93M

Get Insights on Asia In Your Inbox

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Get your first month for $0.99

Redeemable only through the Subscribe button below

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.