Tokyo cafe to use robot waiters controlled by people with disabilities

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A cafe in Japan is employing robot waiters controlled remotely from home by people with severe physical disabilities.

The androids, about as tall as a seven-year-old child, transmit sound and video over the internet, allowing their operators to direct them via tablets or computers.

Engineers behind the project said they hope to provide jobs to people who struggle to move their bodies – such as those with debilitating muscular diseases. 

The cafe will deploy OriHime-D robots controlled by disabled people with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a type of motor neuron disease.

If the brief trial is successful, it could spawn a permanent cafe ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

‘Everyone should have the freedom to work in the way they like,’ said Masatane Muto, an ALS 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.’

OriHime-D robots stand four feet (1.2m) tall and weigh around 44 pounds (20 kilos).

Each has a camera in its head with a microphone that sends live audio and video feeds to a laptop or computer.

The cafe in Tokyo’s Akasaka district is due to open weekdays from November 26 to December 7.

Smaller versions of the android that are just 8.5 inches (22cm) high are already provided by about 70 Japanese companies to employees working from home.

They have also been used remotely in classrooms by students who cannot attend school due to illness or other reasons.

‘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 stress-induced illness as a child that left him socially isolated.

This experience drove him to study robotics at Tokyo’s Waseda University in the hopes of connecting people through androids.

Ory Lab, which is also based in the Japanese capital, plans to set up a permanent cafe staffed by robots and boost adoption by other companies by 2020.

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