It’s a timely creation for Japan’s crisis-hit childcare industry, which is suffering from a nationwide staff shortage fuelled by the long working hours and low wages that go hand in hand with working in nurseries. Meanwhile, the demand for childcare far outstrips availability, with many mothers prevented from returning to work after having children as they are unable to obtain a place in the public childcare system.
Robotics are increasingly being utilized in Japan to counter human labour shortages, as the nation struggles with a rapidly aging population. As many as 26,081 children were on waiting lists for day care facilities on April 1, the start of this academic year – marking a rise of 2,528 compared to last year – according to the health, labour and welfare ministry.
From hotels operated by humanoids to insurance offices where robots are replacing human staff, a raft of industries in Japan are experimenting with the concept of using robotics technology to ease staff shortages and cut costs.
One company has even trained a robot as a Buddhist priest-for-hire,programming it to read scriptures, chant prayers and tap drums to take part in funeral ceremonies, according to reports.
Centre stage is a robot called Vevo, complete with bear-shaped head and humanoid body, which is able to recognise and greet children as well as record their body temperatures using a thermograph.
The robots are complemented by a separate sensors system which can monitor the heart rate and movement of children as they sleep in their cots during nap time, with alarms triggered if abnormalities are detected. The new integrated system is currently being trialled at a Tokyo nursery, one of 27 nationwide child care centres operated by Global Bridge Holdings, with plans to introduce it in a second facility in Gunma Prefecture next month.
After trialling the system in its own establishments, the company is hoping to commercialise and sell the system for around four million yen (£28,000) from next April.