As a nation, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about robots taking over the jobs of human beings. Will they or won’t they? Which jobs will they take on? What will humans do as they’re replaced? These questions are being discussed everywhere.
However, automation can actually expand work opportunities for humans. Case in point: Tokyo’s Dawn Cafe, where robot avatars work as waiters and baristas. DAWN stands for Diverse Avatar Working Network. The robots assist people with disabilities to do jobs that otherwise would not be open to them.
Robot waiters at Dawn are operated by people who live with disabilities. Often, the operators are bedridden or have severe mobility issues. They can operate the robots with an iPad or even a gaze-controlled remote.
Dawn Cafe started as a pop-up making a point about workers with disabilities, but has become a permanent business.
The force behind Dawn Cafe is Dry Laboratories, an outfit that creates robot avatars for people with limited mobility. Their website points out that most people will be bedridden at some point in their lives. “Since 2012 Ory Laboratory has been working towards one goal,” they say, “the elimination of ‘loneliness’ from the human race.”
Ory focuses on the isolation experienced by people whose physical limitations make it impossible for them to work in person, but who can — with the help of robot avatars — meet new people and earn a salary.
Kentaro Yoshifuji, the CEO of Ory Laboratories, was hospitalized several times during high school and couldn’t attend school in person for long periods of time. He won a Human Power Award for a robot avatar he developed.
Try also makes small robot avatars for students who cannot attend school in person, and for telecommuters. Yoshifuji intends to normalize the use of robot avatars, for people who are paralyzed or otherwise limited in mobility or for other situations.
Pandemic lockdowns were one of these situations. Children could visit their grandparents with a robot avatar without endangering them. Even simple geographic distance can be solved with Ory robot avatars, and the gaze-controlled interface makes these avatars accessible to people with ALS or other physical limitations. Since the robot avatars can perform physical tasks, they are a big step up from Zoom.
“The products from ORY Laboratory are tools that help those who are somehow hindered in a normal social participation to overcome such challenges,” says the company website. “Through technology, we will convert the ‘not possible’ to the ‘possible’ and expand the possibilities of society itself.”