Toyota Human Support Robot: Is there a better way?

toyotaAnd so to the Tokyo Olympic Games – where else? – which kicks off today with all the razzamatazz of the opening ceremony but none of the crowds due to the Covid pandemic.

Of course, corporate sponsors, foreign dignitaries and other VIPs will still be taking up their seats but all is not well in the land of the rising sun, with many of Japan’s biggest corporations scrapping plans for their senior executives to attend the ceremony. Panasonic, NTT, NEC and Fujitsu have all followed Toyota in saying they will not be turning up.

Toyota, which has spent millions being a key Olympics sponsor, has even cancelled its Games-related advertising in Japan in an effort to distance itself from the event that many Japanese think should not be taking place at all.

However, in the UK Toyota appears to be carrying on regardless and this week has launched a new campaign, featuring four Toyota ambassadors and Team GB and Paralympics GB athletes: cyclist Laura Kenny, sport climber Shauna Coxey, sprinter Jonnie Peacock and swimmer Alice Tai.

Devised by The & Partnership, the “light hearted” storyline shows them being sent an HSR (Human Support Robot) to help with their training for Tokyo 2020. However, instead of taking advantage of the advanced robot’s full capabilities (whatever they are) they put it to work doing daily chores, such as walking the dog, ironing and carrying shopping.

Not that the HSR is actually available to buy yet; it is just one of Toyota’s robotics concepts now under development.

It is part of a programme being spearheaded by the Toyota Research Institute to develop advanced technologies that can provide practical help for elderly and disabled people and those recovering from illness or injury.

According to the official blurb: “With its highly manoeuvrable, compact, and lightweight cylindrical body and folding arm, the HSR can pick up objects up off the floor and take items from shelves, capabilities which could prove useful help with everyday tasks, for people whose mobility is limited through physical impairment or convalescence from injury or treatment.”

And Toyota GB director of communications and product Stuart Sanders seems pleased with the end result. He said: “This campaign not only showcases Toyota’s cutting-edge robotics technology but celebrates our fantastic partnerships with Team GB, Paralympics GB and our four athletes as we look forward to Tokyo.” If you say so, Stuart.

The & Partnership’s creative director, Dominic Gettins, is even more bullish: “In the HSR we found the perfect embodiment of ‘Mobility Partner’ to link to the athletes. It just needed a little human support of its own in the form of creative team, Andreas and Elson, director, Jon Barber, and the programmers at Kings College London (KCL), who all worked brilliantly together to develop our robot’s character – advanced, yet spirited.” Nice plug, there.

So, what is the consensus around the Decision Marketing office?

Well, anyone thinking the HSR will be the answer to all their domestic dreams – from doing the washing up and cleaning the car to going shopping and making dinner – should maybe think again. From what we can see in this ad, it is more Doctor Who’s K-9 than I, Robot’s Sonny.

And, sadly, this does create a bit of a problem. No matter how “light-hearted” the ad is, you are left wondering what the HSR would actually be any good for in a domestic setting and therefore why Toyota is even bothering to promote it.

To be honest, Toyota’s current strapline seems rather fitting: “Always A Better Way.”

Decision Marketing Adometer: A “back to the drawing board” 6 out of 10

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