Following a successful crowdfunding campaign last year, Panasonic, a consumer electronics company, decided to launch its Nicobo companion robot to a wider audience and announced that it will put it on the market in 2023. The robot was developed in association with the Toyohashi University of Technology Michio Oka Laboratory researchers and introduced a year ago in a limited edition.
In 2021, the company sold 320 companion robots for approximately $360 each in less than seven hours as part of its crowdfunding campaign, and now Panasonic is planning a wider launch. After the first six months, however, those who were fortunate to pre-order Nicobo needed to pay around $10/month to connect the robot to their smartphone and receive software updates.
Nicobo is a small ball-shaped cat-like robot about 20 cm in diameter that cannot do much, but it can turn around, wag its tail, blink its eyes, and change its facial expressions in response to human actions. The companion robot can recognize faces using a camera and listen and respond to your voice using its built-in multidirectional microphones. Nicobo also features touch sensors that make it aware when you're touching or hugging it.
It can't really talk like a voice assistant or support a conversation, but it can make various sounds that imitate speech and repeat individual words.
The robot is designed to be a companion for lonely people or a low-maintenance pet for the elderly.
The pricing and release date of Nicobo are yet to be confirmed, but Panasonic intends to make it cheaper than other similar solutions. The company also plans to turn its companion robot into a source of permanent income by adding a subscription with a new Nicobo, which will let its owners store their conversations with the robot as well as their facial data in the cloud.