The goal of this unique café in the world, which will open next June in Nihonbashi, is to promote the inclusiveness of everyone in society: the robot-servers will be managed remotely by people with disabilities or who cannot leave their homes. Thus, these Japanese citizens, often faced with the difficulty of obtaining a job in a very standardized working world, will now have the opportunity to work, participate in social life and communicate directly with customers.

Being served by robots is what – at first glance – may seem like a loss of human contact, erased by progress and the ever increasing emphasis on technology in our lives. However, it will not be at ” Avatar Robot Cafe DAWN “(DAWN for” Diverse Avatar Working Network “). It’s quite the opposite.

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In 2018 (from November 26 to 30 & from December 3 to 7) in Akasaka then in 2019 (from October 7 to 23) at the 3 × 3 Lab Future in Otemachi, “ Avatar Robot Cafe DAWN Had opened tentatively to test the concept. The results were conclusive enough to allow the opening of a permanent café at Nihonbashi.

Source: youtube

If the technological prowess is present with the use of robots in the role of waiters, the objective of the designers of this café is above all human: that of offering an activity to disabled Japanese workers as well as isolated people who cannot leave their homes (sick people, hikikomori, elderly people, stay-at-home mothers, etc.). Is a situation that would concern 34 million Japanese according to Cabinet Office, an agency of the Japanese government. Because these robots will not be 100% autonomous: each of them will be controlled remotely in real time thanks to a simple internet connection.

The Humanoid coffee robots, “OriHime-D” of their little name, are only four feet tall. Equipped witha front camera, microphone and speaker, they will be able to record customer orders and the employee running the robot will be able to speak to them directly. Each robot is adapted to the specificity of its controller. In some cases, a simple movement of the eyes is enough to direct the robot.

Thus, if the use of this type of robot grows, the immobilized people who will control them will be able to have access to more jobs in the hotel industry, for example. In addition, the company behind the concept believes they will know the gratifying feeling of being accepted by and integrated into society, instead of feeling left out and isolated. However, it should be noted that this activity is poorly remunerated: 1000 per hour, or 8 euros, a very low hourly average (around 1300 euros per month for 40 hours per week). The sources do not specify whether this salary is to replace an allowance or in addition to it. Ultimately, this type of robot could be used in other increasingly complex functions.

Instead of replacing humans, we can thus see the robot as an intermediary of communication between them, beyond the apparent coldness of the machine.

This particular cafe was designed by the company Ory Laboratory Inc, a Japanese robotics company whose mantra is present on their home page: “Solving human loneliness, thanks to communication technologies “. Because that’s what it’s all about. A simple computer linking immobilized people with other individuals, except that this one has a humanoid shape to generate interactions more easily. The idea for this one-of-a-kind cafe came to the co-founder and CEO of Kentaro Yoshifuji, whenat one point in his life he had to stay bedridden in hospital for almost three years, suffering from loneliness and lack of activity. Back in the world of work, he dedicated himself to developing a way to restore artificial mobility to people who cannot move.

Finally far from keeping people away, the robots of the ” Avatar Robot Cafe DAWN On the contrary want to try to bring them together, for the benefit of people with disabilities, isolated, remote from society for lack of suitable facilities to their situation. In the international media, the project is therefore widely presented as an example of positive use of technology in favor of humans. However, it is difficult to completely lose sight of the commercial dimension of the project when behind each robot, a paralyzed person is paid (very little) to perform repetitive tasks. The specter of the usually dreaded capitalist dystopia is indeed never far away.

For good reason, we live in an ultra-commercial world that has become an expert in the art of recovery for profit, often causing technical progress to weigh heavily on very poorly paid employees. It is not so much the technology which poses the problem but the economic framework which instrumentalizes it. If technology were to be monopolized by Big Capital and its multinationals, it would mark a new shift in the supremacy of productive work over our lifespan already almost entirely devoted to productivity. One can very well imagine, in the near future, giants like Ikea resorting to remote handling via adapted robots, controlled at low cost by downgraded people, until we can do without workers altogether. Their research and wishes clearly point in this direction, in particular through the rapid deployment of 5G. It will therefore be necessary to remain politically vigilant so that this very sympathetic concept does not turn into Orwellian dystopia.

S. Barret

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