How watcher robot Bocco secured $20,000 on Kickstarter within three weeks

Watcher robot Bocco

See the original story in Japanese.

The inhabitants of our childhood dream worlds are about to populate ordinary life – yes, robots. However, for most people, it might be unclear as to how robots are supposed to help us in our lives.

For example, it might be helpful to have drones deliver packages, but it is a little disappointing if that is all that robots can do. Robots and drones are supposed to make our dreams come true (or at least that is how it should be from my point of view), and they face some big challenges.

Yukai Engineering, a development team particularly unique within the domestic robotics industry, released Bocco, which may help us expand such dreams. The company’s crowdfunding project, which opened on March 14, 2015 via Kickstarter, has successfully attained its target of more than $20,000 in just three weeks. In light of this event, developer and Yukai Engineering CEO Shunsuke Aoki released the following comment.

For this project, we mostly appealed to foreign investors. It was our first time promoting a product outside Japan, and so the campaign took a lot of time to prepare. I am very pleased to see that we were able to receive a lot of generous support as a result.

Next, let us take a look at what Bocco means for the future.

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Bocco as a watcher robot

According to Aoki’s “general” explanation, Bocco is said to be a watcher robot.

If you attach this red sensor to places such as your front door, it reacts to movements, and Bocco sends a notification to a smartphone app. This enables you to find out when your children have come home, for example. The robot is good at watching and communicating.

As the promotion video shows, Bocco has its own chat app for smartphones (only for iOS at present, Android versions are to come out in July), which enables users to communicate verbally through Bocco.

By pressing the “REC” button on the robot’s belly, voice messages can be recorded. The system then sends this message to smartphones via Bluetooth. Moreover, text-to-speech services are provided from the servers, which means that chat messages sent as text will be read aloud by Bocco simply by pressing the play button. (There is no limit to the number of characters in the message, but Aoki told us that perhaps the API will place a certain limit on this feature in the future.)

In short, Bocco works as a “messenger.” Instead of handing dry electronic devices to children, the robot provides an opportunity for them to engage in a more humane form of communication.

When speaking on or receiving a message, Bocco makes a cute gesture by rolling its head. The movement really is quite robotic, and it mysteriously kindles a sense of warm sympathy.

If only I had encountered Bocco during my childhood, I might have taken a different path in my life.

Bocco in the future

While Bocco is already cuddly enough, as with drones, there may be adults who still complain, “Is that all?” Indeed, for us (especially of the Showa [Japanese calendar years from 1925 to end of the 1980’s] generation) Doraemon stands for robots. Doraemon has an infinite store of possibilities in his four-dimensional pocket.

Aoki continued:

Bocco contains a Linux box, and it can be extended from the outside. For example, say, it can control domestic electronic appliances to make the lights go on and off in response to the opening and closing of doors. Or it can respond to voice and turn on the television, or give us a warning when we are using too much electricity. I am interested in those kinds of areas associated with smart homes.

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Arriving home, Bocco analyzes your day’s updates on any social media site, and then says, “You had a long day. Since you seem to be feeling stressed, I decided to buy some relaxing music for you. Would you like to listen to it?” It can be said that such a world is already on the horizon.

A founder of TeamLab, dreaming about Doraemon

Yukai Engineering's Shunsuke Aoki
Yukai Engineering’s Shunsuke Aoki

Aoki of Yukai Engineering started his career as a founding member of TeamLab (CTO). After that, he worked for pixiv before founding Yukai Engineering. When I first met him, Aoki was developing the “Eyeball Dad” which can be operated over a smartphone.

He explained:

I got into robots through ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ – I decided then that I was going to make my own robot in the future. I had been working as a CTO for about 6 years, and yet I still wanted to make robots, so I quit my job and flew to China.

Doraemon has always been my inspiration. Today, it might be something like Baymax. Robots are for me something which exist in our daily lives, always teaching us something new or helping us to realize our wishes. You know, smart homes are not very exciting since you can’t feel any human ‘presence’ there. Instead of making voice recognition for those kinds of things, I wanted to create something with more character, like an avatar. I want to make something which makes people feel excited to go home to.

Of course, this robotic vision has just gotten off the ground. Pepper, developed by SoftBank, entered our era as a pioneer. While it may take a little longer for these to have a real impact on society, perhaps more people are willing to try starting up in this research field.

Translated by Conyac crowdsourced translation service
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy