Photo/IllutrationAn OriHime-D robot, operated by Nozomi Murata, who has a muscle disease, offers a drink to a “customer” during a demonstration held in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Aug. 22. (Kyosuke Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Five robots at a cafe in Tokyo will not only offer friendly service to customers, but they will also give severely disabled people a chance to interact in society.

The OriHime-D robots do not run on artificial intelligence but will be operated by disabled people from their homes.

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, excluding the weekend, the robots will take orders and serve customers at a cafe in the Nippon Foundation’s building in Minato Ward.

Kentaro Yoshifuji, 30, co-founder and CEO of OryLab Inc., a company that produces alter-ego robots, invented OriHime-D to help disabled people who have difficulties leaving their homes participate in work environments.

“There are very few opportunities for severely disabled people to work,” Yoshifuji said. “The types of jobs are limited to teleworking from home. But if opportunities expand to serving customers, the chance for them to join society will become much bigger.”

Nozomi Murata, 33, who has an incurable muscle-debilitating disease, teleoperated one of the OriHime-D robots from her home during a demonstration in August.

The 120-centimeter-tall white robot approached a family seated at a table in the cafe at the Nippon Foundation. After offering some snacks, the robot, in a female voice, asked, “Would you like some chocolate?”

The children replied “thank you” as they took sweets from a tray that the robot was holding.

OriHime-D then asked, “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?”

Murata operated OriHime-D with her hand while watching live footage of the cafe from a built-in camera.

When Murata spoke, her words were emitted through the robot’s speaker.

“Although she is a robot, we did not feel anything cold (about her),” the children’s mother said. “Instead, there was something warm and friendly about her.”

The robot’s interface can be changed to suit the needs of the operator.

For example, patients of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who cannot move their muscles can control the robot through the movement of their eyeballs.

The operator can also create the robot’s “voice” by selecting letters in the system.

“With (this technology), I can work in the field, which I normally could not do because of my disease,” said Masatane Muto, 31, an ALS patient who supports Yoshifuji’s activities. “With OriHime-D, I think I can express who I am, and I am looking forward to (using her).”

Yoshifuji said, “We hope (managers) of companies will think, ‘We want to use her at our company.’”