‘Pepper’s father’ ready for new robotic challenge

Kaname Hayashi, who led the team that developed SoftBank Group’s Pepper humanoid robot, is again in the spotlight as he recently set up a venture firm to create a revolutionary new robot. Hayashi established GROOVE X in Tokyo in November 2015, in a bid to launch the new robot in 2019.
Looking back on the development of Pepper, Hayashi said the development project "progressed like a musical performance, with one idea inspiring another. I want to put emphasis on such a groove."
GROOVE X wants to develop a robot for household use that can comfort humans as dogs and cats do. The new robot will not speak but will be able to understand to some degree what its owner says. The new robot will also change its behavior and develop a personality depending on its surroundings and its interaction with humans.
GROOVE X has already made a cute prototype of the new robot, which is smaller than the Pepper robot but bigger than the AIBO robotic dog by electronics giant Sony. The prototype’s gently curved shape apparently shows the importance of form for Hayashi, who was once an aerodynamicist at Toyota Motor. The prototype is kept under wraps. GROOVE X has yet to decide when it will unveil the new robot.
Hayashi said confidently, "The concept (of the new robot) is impossible for somebody else to emulate easily." But he said that he has to be very careful in providing any information about the new robot in order to make the development project a success.
Hayashi announced his decision to quit SoftBank on his Facebook page in August 2015, and he was approached by many manufacturers both at home and abroad wishing to hire him.
But Hayashi was already determined to realize his own vision for the future. While he was engaged in the development of the Pepper robot, he strongly felt that robots have great potential.
Several months after launching GROOVE X, Hayashi still faces a bumpy road ahead as he seeks to secure a huge amount of funds, as well as fellow engineers, needed for the new robot development project.
GROOVE X estimates the cost of its new robot development project at several billion yen. The venture company has so far managed to secure several hundred million yen from investors, including the Japan unit of U.S.-based venture capital fund Global Catalyst Partners.
The X in the venture company’s name is partly in homage to SpaceX, the U.S.-based aerospace venture. Developing a robot is "probably much easier than space transportation," Hayashi said. "We are feeling somewhat nervous, but we do not want to forget naivete."