The DAWN Avatar Café

People, NewsOctober 4, 2022

“The future we imagine is the future we create,” says futurist Stuart Candy. But how can one imagine, let alone create, a future that is radically inclusive? What does it mean to move beyond “diversity”—a business strategy used to target new markets—to true social inclusion?

In a world where an ever-growing number of people are being left behind by globalization and technology, can we create a future in which everyone has a role to play? This is the challenge that Ory Laboratory, a Tokyo-based tech company, has taken on with the launch of DAWN café, an “Avatar Robot Café” in the city’s Nihonbashi district.

DAWN (Diverse Avatar Working Network) café is the first of its kind in the world. Its purpose is to help people with mobility problems, family commitments, or other impediments that make it hard to find conventional work by providing remote employment with the help of technology solutions.

At DAWN café, remote workers operate robot avatars that interact with customers on their behalf. The two robots, OriHime and OriHime-D have been designed by Ory Laboratory to not only provide customer service but also to create an emotional connection with patrons. The goal is to eventually have the robots operated by people with a wide range of disabilities, even the ones who can only move their eyes.

The robots are equipped with a camera, microphone, and speaker, which are all operated remotely via the internet.  Users do not need to be tech-savvy since the service is entirely web-based. They may also be operated by someone with no technical knowledge as long as they have access to the internet, making it an ideal choice for individuals who are unable to leave their homes.

Kentaro Yoshifuji, the CEO of Ory Laboratory, was in and out of hospitals for three years as a young student. He discovered that being isolated was extremely distressing, and it was then that he began considering innovative ways to assist those with mobility impairments or people who, for some reason, were unable to leave their homes.

He feels there is a widespread misunderstanding in society about working remotely. "The reality is that it is difficult for people with severe disabilities and who have little social experience to suddenly start working, unless they have past work experience or have qualifications," Yoshifuji explains.

Manual labor is more accessible to someone with no prior professional expertise, making the notion of using remotely controlled robots to carry out physical tasks seem quite sensible. At DAWN café there are many people from all over Japan and even Australia who are controlling the avatar robots, taking customer orders and interacting with café visitors on a personal level.

Aside from offering employment opportunities to those with mobility issues, Ory Laboratory is also trying to answer another question: how can we create social cohesion in a super-aging society where an ever-growing number of people are becoming bedridden?

"Although Japan's life expectancy is increasing, there is still a gap of about 10 years between the average healthy life expectancy and the average life expectancy. We believe that the answer to how to live in a super-aging society lies in whether or not these people can stay connected to society and gain a real sense of being of service to others. The pilots who have experienced remote employment with their “alter-ego” robot have shown a remarkable change in their attitude toward life. We have heard words such as “I feel as if I have been reborn” and that shows how much this work has meant to them," says Yoshifuji.

Harnessing the power of technology, Ory Laboratory's avatar robots provide a solution that can help bedridden people stay connected to the world in a meaningful way. Initiatives like this one create a future-positive environment and imagine a society in which everyone can play a part, regardless of their physical abilities.

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