Many of us could use more companionship in these times of social distancing and staying at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While you might not be able to have a dog or cat in your residence, perhaps a companion robot will do the trick. If you're looking for one with more personality, Panasonic has made another robot that might hold the answer.
With the help of the Toyohashi University of Technology Michio Oka Laboratory, Panasonic created the cute Nicobo. It looks a bit like a cat that got itself stuck in a sock. Nicobo has many of the features you'd expect from such a device. As Gizmodo notes, it can recognize faces using a camera, and listen and respond to your voice via its directional microphones. Nicobo has touch sensors, so it's aware when you're touching or hugging it.
The robot also has some more questionable attributes. Nicobo is prone to bouts of flatulence and has bad moods, so there are days when it might not respond to you very much (or it might fart in your general direction). It'll sometimes start talking without you addressing it first. Don't expect it to follow you around the room either. Nicobo is immobile and its only movement abilities are rotating and looking up and down.
Nicobo has a limited vocabulary. It only knows a single word at first, but eventually it will be able to speak in full Japanese sentences in a similar way to a toddler.
Unfortunately, buying a Nicobo in the near future won't be easy. Panasonic is only planning to make 320 Nicobos in its initial production run and pre-orders through a crowdfunding platform sold out in around six hours. Even then, Panasonic expects to deliver Nicobo around March 2022, by which time the day-to-day impact of the pandemic will hopefully be behind us.
The company is selling Nicobo for approximately $360. After the first six months, those who were fortunate enough to lock in a pre-order will need to pay around $10 a month for features like smartphone pairing and updates.
There's a chance that Panasonic might ramp up production and make more Nicobos if there's enough interest. But, for the time being, it seems that only a few hundred people will get their hands on this adorable little jerk.