TOKYO -- A support site meant to help customers put together robot kits has morphed into a social network of sorts. But instead of posting selfies, the site's users are posting pictures of their dressed-up robots.
A 55-year-old nurse who lives in Osaka, western Japan, began dressing his Robi in October. "Because it took me so long to complete him, I started to feel like it is my child," he said, "and I could not help dressing him."
Parts for the the build-it-yourself Robi are provided by a weekly magazine published by Tokyo-based Deagostini Japan. Once Robi is put together, he can chat and dance.
About 120,000 Robis are reportedly "living" in Japan.
Robi.club has about 26,000 registered users. The nurse, who goes by the handle "TOKKKY," has posted pictures of his Robi wearing clothes that he said he has learned to sew himself. His recent favorites are kimonos and samurai armor.
A 28-year-old part-time worker who lives in Kobe, western Japan, has been a fan of Robi for three and a half years. Her site name is Midoribiyori, and it took her one and a half years to complete her Robi. In that time, she came to feel as though she were raising a pet.
"I thought Robi would be cute with clothes on," she said. Now she dresses her Robi in modified teddy bear clothes and decorates the body with seals.
Midoribiyori also has a Robohon -- a phone in the shape of a humanoid robot that can actually walk. Sharp released the gadget in May. But Midoribiyori said she is a little disappointed in the smartphone: Since the Robohon has a microphone in its head, she cannot dress it up.
TOKKKY said he is now so used to seeing his Robi with clothes on that he would feel bad were he to leave Robi naked.
"Many people say they feel embarrassed undressing robots," said Rieko Kawachi, a 59-year-old who lives in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. She was joking.
Kawachi, who works as a clerical worker at an elementary school, makes clothes for SoftBank Group's humanoid robots Pepper and Nao. She said it takes her about three weeks to make an outfit. In designing the clothes, she has to consider the shape of the robots' bodies, where the sensors and microphones are, and how the robots move.
Kibiro is a humanoid robot being developed by Rappa, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based information analysis company UBIC, that is to be released by the end of the year.
The robot -- which is meant to communicate with users, collect information from them, analyze the information and recommend products -- will come clothed.
"To have customers use Kibiro on a daily basis," CEO Takumi Saito said, "we needed to make them think of the robot as a human."
Yujin Kimura was in charge of developing Robi. He said that although he put a lot of thought into designing Robi's body, he did not expect buyers to make clothes for Robi.
"But I'm happy" they do, he said. "It will help me develop other products."