OriHime is a charming Japanese robot. Like most robots made in Japan, it’s full of circuitry, programming chips, and has an exterior human-like shell. Though in OriHime’s case, it’s more Wall-E than terminator thanks to the soft edges and large babyish eyes.

The interior of OriHime is also intrinsically human in many ways that its robot brethren are not. OriHime’s purpose is to be a vessel that empowers people who have difficulty going outside or moving due to severe disabilities or illnesses such as ALS to connect with everyday society and people within. Practically speaking, the robot can support people who are bed bound to connect with distant family, or work a job for example.

Since 2018, people with disabilities have taken up opportunities to work as cafe staff through OriHime in the pop-up cafe “Avatar Cafe DAWN ver.β”. Avatar Cafe DAWN seeks to eliminate human loneliness by enabling people who are bed or house bound to enjoy working as cafe staff and communicating with customers.

After several successful pop-up cafes that were attended by over 5000 people since 2018, maker of OriHime, OryLab, has decided to open a permanent cafe in Tokyo in June, 2021! The cafe is intended by OryLab to be a flagship store that will use OriHime to advocate for a new form of social participation for people who have difficulty going outside.

The cafe will open in Nihonbashi, with OryLab also planning to move their headquarters to the same facility. Details of the store, location, opening date and time, etc. are to be officially announced at a later date.

About Avatar Cafe DAWN ver.β

How exactly will Avatar Cafe DAWN work then? The cafe will be staffed by two types of OriHime robots that have been used previously in the pop-ups.

The table-top stationary robot, OriHime is used to take orders from customers and communicate with them. The small robot is capable of taking on different poses which pilots can use to emotively communicate with customers in addition to voice based interactions. Each table also has an iPad to support ordering and text based communication with pilots.

From the pilots perspective, they can view customers of the cafe through their computer screens, while piloting OriHime through software that can be operated through slight eye movements. This makes OriHime user friendly for pilots who face physical restrictions to their movement.

In addition to OriHime, the larger “Orihime-D” robot is mobile and can be piloted around the cafe to deliver food to customers. In the pop-up cafes, Orihime and Orihime-D have been piloted by separate people, creating more opportunities for people who face restrictions to work in person to support the operation of a cafe and chat with customers. It is yet to be confirmed by OryLab how they will operate and staff the permanent location in Nihonbashi.

Creating new opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in society

As proof of their concept, one person who was trained as a pilot for an Avatar Cafe DAWN pop-up store was hired as a remote worker for a company in July 2020.

The physical Avatar Cafe DAWN ver.β location will offer new possibilities for social participation for those with severe disabilities, which will hopefully lead to an expansion of remote work opportunities beyond the cafe supported by OriHime robots.

By - Toby M.