New Tokyo cafe to be staffed by robot waiters controlled remotely by disabled

Designer of the robots says he wants to ‘create a world in which people who can’t move their bodies can work too’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:09pm

A cafe will open in Tokyo’s Akasaka district in November featuring robot waiters remotely controlled from home by people with severe physical disabilities.

The cafe, which will open on weekdays from November 26 to December 7, will deploy OriHime-D robots controlled by disabled people with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease.

The robot waiters, 1.2 metres tall and weighing 20kg, will send video and audio via the internet, allowing their controllers to direct them from home on their tablets or computers.

At an event marking the OriHime-D’s debut in August, a robot controlled by Nozomi Murata, who has autophagic vacuolar myopathy, which causes muscle weakness, asked a family whether they would like some chocolate.

“I want to create a world in which people who can’t move their bodies can work too,” said Kentaro Yoshifuji, chief executive officer of Ory Lab, the developer of the robots.

Yoshifuji suffered from a stress-induced illness during childhood and had difficulty communicating. With his experience of social isolation, he started developing robots at Waseda University to help connect people, according to the company’s website.

Smaller OriHime robots that are 21.5cm tall and weigh about 600 grams have been introduced by about 70 companies for telecommuting. They can also be used remotely in classrooms by students who cannot attend school due to illness or other reasons.

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Ory Lab aims to set up a permanent cafe featuring OriHime robots and increase adoption by companies in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“Everyone should have the freedom to work in the way they like,” said Masatane Muto, a motor neurone disease patient and one of the organisers of the project. “I want to send out the message toward 2020 that you can show hospitality even if you have disabilities.”