Tokyo discovers an entirely new way to connect over coffee

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It’s one thing to provide work for those with disabilities, spinal cord injuries and challenges such as ALS. It’s another to enable them to operate robot waiters in a café at another location, wirelessly transmitting audio and video.

But that’s exactly what’s been happening at a Tokyo eatery. Robots at the pop-up Diverse Avatar Working Network Cafe have been taking orders and serving food; the trial concept is a collaboration between the Nippon Foundation, ANA Holdings Inc. and Ory Lab Inc. The Ory robots are known as OriHime-D, and stand about four feet tall with built-in cameras and speakers so remote operators can “experience” what the robot does.

Kentaro Yoshifuji, Ory Lab CEO, said the robots enable both physical and social participation for those otherwise unable to work. Yoshifuji was unable to attend school for medical reasons from the age of 10 to 14, and has said his experiences helped lead to the robot development.

The part-time jobs paid minimum wage, but the effort provided something else: a chance to float the concept on a small scale. The hope is that a permanent cafe can be opened prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, continuing to provide opportunities for people with disabilities.

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