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Panasonic's cuddly robot helps chase away pandemic blues

Nicobo smart companion sold out in one day on crowdfunding platform

Nikobo has no legs or wheels, but can nod up and down as well as speak. (Photo courtesy of Panasonic)

OSAKA -- Social isolation has been an issue since before the pandemic for single people and the elderly, and Panasonic hopes its new smart robot will help ease their loneliness.

The Japanese company on Tuesday unveiled the Nicobo desktop, a cuddlesome robot that, when spoken to, wags its tail and mimics what was said.

The product, developed jointly with professor Michio Okada of Toyohashi University of Technology, marks the first household robot for the manufacturer of appliances and home electronics.

Nicobo debuted as a project on Makuake, a Kickstarter-like Japanese crowdfunding platform, and all 320 units available for financial support were backed the same day. The robot sells for 39,800 yen ($376) with an estimated delivery of around March 2022, and will require a monthly subscription fee of 980 yen after six months of use.

Panasonic will consider bringing the item to the general market depending on the level of interest.

With a limited Japanese vocabulary, Nicobo may act moody, not responding sometimes while starting to talk without being addressed at other times. The wheel-less device does not move on its own but can slowly spin around and nod up and down. It comes with a camera for facial recognition and reacts to strong lights with a sensor, such as when basking in the sun.

"We made Nicobo look adorable with its baby talk and somewhat vulnerable face," said the head of the development team at Panasonic.

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