Ory Yoshifuji has designed an innovative robot by focusing less on cutting-edge technology, and more on helping people to make better connections. His creation, OriHime, can communicate so naturally that you might think you're talking to a human.
The small robot is equipped with a camera, a speaker, and a microphone. It's operated remotely by a person using a tablet or smartphone.
Yoshifuji, 28, describes OriHime as "a personal avatar that allows people to have a presence in places where they can't actually be physically present."
What sets the robot apart is the ability to use body language to convey the user's feelings.
"I had the idea that a robot could help make people more connected," says Yoshifuji, who is CEO of Ory Laboratory. "Communicating by phone or skype just doesn't feel personal."
His company released OriHime last summer, and it's already attracted some dedicated users.
One of them is Tatsuya Seki, an engineer who works for a company that makes artificial limbs.
Seki is recovering at home after having throat surgery. While he's away from his office, he attends meetings via OriHime.
"I feel like I'm right there," Seki says. "Not completely there, but I can express my feelings through OriHime's body language."
Yoshifuji was inspired to create the robot because of an experience he had as a boy. He was sick throughout his childhood, and missed about 3.5 years of school.
"I was really depressed for a long time, thinking that no one needed me," he recalls.
"If something like this robot was around back then, I would've put it in the classroom and attended my lessons remotely from the hospital. That may have saved me from feeling isolated, and could've helped me make a smooth return to school."
Yoshifuji is already working on his next challenge. He's making improvements to OriHime so it can be used by people with disabilities, or those who are suffering from serious diseases.
And he's receiving valuable input from one of his staff members.
Yuta Banda lost the use of his arms and legs in a traffic accident. Yoshifuji wants to help people in similar situations go out and play an active role in society.
"Even if you're like him and can't move your body, you can still work and help others, as long as your mind has vigor," Yoshifuji says.
"And you'll have someone who recognizes your efforts, and tells you, 'Thank you, you're a great help.' I'm strongly motivated to realize such a future."