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Cocorobo: Japan’s emotionally needy answer to the Roomba now plays J-pop

Image used with permission by copyright holder

If there is one thing Japanese consumers love more than wide-eyed anime vixens and adorably compact living spaces, it is anthropomorphized machinery. From the fictional Gundam mechs to this adorable snoring cessation bear, the Japanese have a long history of applying human and animal traits to their gadgets, and in that vein researchers at Sharp have created Cocorobo.

The device is similar to a Roomba vacuum cleaner, both in purpose and and in design. It is a small, disc-shaped machine that cleans floors automatically. Unlike a traditional vacuum, it roams around your house, learning the layout and using its innate software to more efficiently suck up dust.

Unlike the Roomba however, the Cocorobo offers emotional interaction and a slew of features designed to make it seem like a living entity. According to DigInfo, the Cocorobo is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, LED lights and wireless network capabilities, allowing users to check on the thing via either iPhone or Android devices. Additionally, it is equipped with speech recognition software, which gives owners the option to control the Cocorobo either using its remote control or simple voice commands.

In the latest iteration of the Cocorobo, recently unveiled at the 2016 Ceatec show in Japan, the automated vacuum plays music. Because the only thing better than a self-sufficient vacuum cleaner is one that plays J-pop — Japanese pop music — while it cleans. Apparently, the update was made after users commented that they did not like the normal sucking sound the vacuum made as it went about its job.

So now, the Cocorobo plays J-pop songs performed by Yamaha’s voice synthesis software, Vocaloid, which also allows it to talk to its owner. You can set the playlist yourself, or just tell your vacuum what you want to hear.

The most intriguing bit however, is that Cocorobo also has ‘feelings.’ DigInfo reports: “… if you use Cocorobo every day, or speak to it every day, it gets in a good mood. Depending on how it feels, its words and movements vary a lot, so you can gain a feeling of closeness with it. Regarding Cocorobo’s learning capability, we’re planning upgrades that will make it evolve rapidly.”

DigInfo also claims that Cocorobo will navigate its environment via electronic echolocation. This allows it to avoid bumping into things like transparent glass tables which simple camera-based navigation would not be able to detect, but more crucially it brings your new vacuum cleaner one step closer to being a bat.

Article originally published in May 2012. Updated on 10-06-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added news that the latest iteration of the Cocorobo plays J-pop. 

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Earnest Cavalli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Earnest Cavalli has been writing about games, tech and digital culture since 2005 for outlets including Wired, Joystiq…
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