A pop-up restaurant in Tokyo has run a trial employing disabled people to work as the waiting staff. But this is no ordinary trial.
Instead of taking orders or clearing tables themselves, the staff of the Dawn ver.β cafe pilot a team of robots from the comfort of their homes.
OriHime-D is a remote-controlled robot developed by Ory Lab. Kentaro “Ory” Yoshifuji, the CEO set up the firm with co-founders, Aki Yuki, and Yoshifumi Shiiba. They are part of on an ongoing project to use technology to combat social isolation.
Standing at 1.2 meters tall and they have expressionless, white faces reminiscent of Japanese Noh masks.
They transmit video and audio back to their controllers, who are able to direct them from home via a smartphone or tablet.
Dawn Ver.β Cafe
The cafe is named after a similar establishment in a 2008 anime called Time of Eve, where robots and humans co-exist as equals.
The addition of ver.β (beta) to the cafe’s name was there to show it was a work in progress. A beta version.
A team of 10 people controlled five OriHime-D robots during the trial. The team members have a range of conditions including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
They were all paid 1000 yen ($8) per hour, which is just above the minimum wage in Japan.
Even people with very limited mobility are able to interact with and control OriHime-D robots. Ory Labs created a video showing how a man who is only able to move his eyes can still operate the robot.
Another where a man in a hospital bed gets an OriHime-D to hand a cup of coffee to a waiting Yoshifuji.
Yoshifuji has an impressive track record as an inventor with an interest in using technology for good. Between the ages of 10 and 14, he did not attend school due to poor health. He later went on to represent Japan in the 2005 Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). The project he designed aimed to help wheelchairs climb curbs.
The years he missed out on school that ultimately led to the development of OriHime.
There are 75 million people in the world who need a wheelchair but only 5% to 15% of those in need actually have access to one.
Globally, there are around 200 million people with visual impairment. And there are 466 million people with hearing loss. They have no to access help. But in recent years, the topic of assistive technology started to attract more attention.
A hackathon event was held in Sheffield in the UK, called Hackcessible. It focused on the development of tools and devices to increase accessibility for people with disabilities.
The winning project was a system that scans sheet music and feeds it into an iPad. This allows visually impaired people to read it easily.
OriHime team hope to secure funding to open the cafe permanently in the near future.