The DAWN cafe in the center of Tokyo, Japan looks like any other modern service institution in a bustling metropolis with its sleek architecture, open space and lots of greenery. But there is a catch. Instead of human staff, the floor is crowded with robotic staff greeting customers at the door; helping them find their seat and take their orders. The robotic staff can even recommend different coffee beans for customers to choose from so that a robotic barista can make the perfect coffee.
However, the DAWN cafe is not a story about automation, where machines take over a human task. The cafe is operated by Ory Laboratory, a tech startup that builds the robotic servers that are remotely controlled by human pilots who cannot leave their homes and who in many cases are bedridden. According to government statistics, Japan has more than 34 million people who are housebound because of physical disability, mental illness or old age.
DAWN, which stands for “Diverse Avatar Working Network,” began as a social experiment to create inclusive hospitality jobs for homebound people. More than 60 participants control the robots via mouse, iPad or gaze-controlled remote control from their home, and can see and speak to the customers through the robot. The robots have a screen with a photo and introduction of the person operating the robot, which helps to improve communication between the servers and customers. According to testimonials from participants, the ability to work and “be needed by others is motivating”.
One billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, according to the World Health Population. With the aging workforce and rising rates of chronic diseases, as well as a overall decline in mental health worldwide, a focus on disabilities of various physical, sensory and cognitive skills is becoming increasingly important for the workplace. With increasing evidence of the different challenges facing people with disabilities of working age, there is an increasing awareness and discussion about promoting the integration of disabilities in the workplace.
With regard to assistive technologies that make work more accessible for people with disabilities, the use of robots is one of many examples. A 2021 study by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) across the assistive technologies landscape reveals an industry that has moved beyond the origins of mechanical engineering to now include assistive technologies such as AI, IoT, computer-machine interface (BCI/BMI), and advanced sensors. These technologies can increase mobility, cognition, vision, hearing and communication in the workplace.
Take the example of communication, which uses multiple abilities, including speech, hearing, sight, motor skills, and cognition. According to the 2021 WIPO report, special software and services for assistive communication technologies had the highest number of patent applications between 1998-2019, especially in the field of emulation software that converts the user interface of a device (including hardware input devices) into a custom software interface for easier interaction and accessibility for users. With the rise of emulation software, major consumer electronics companies in the mobile and computer industries such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Panasonic and Samsung are leading the way.
People with disabilities are fervently supported by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who believes that Apple’s commitment to accessibility is so complete that it never looks at return on investment, but it does. “correct and good”.” And on April 21, 2021, Microsoft announced their five-year commitmentst to accelerate the development of accessible technology, create opportunities for more people with disabilities to enter the labor market and to build a work culture that is more inclusive for people with disabilities This announcement comes on the back of 25 years of accessibility work at Microsoft, first activated in response to the American Disabilities Act of 1990.
More recently, the discussion has centered around the inclusion of disabilities in non-physical spaces, such as the metaverse, and what functions are neededy to ensure it is accessible and inclusive.
However, technologies are only one part of tackling the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Many people point to the importance of developing a more inclusive corporate culture, starting with developing hiring and retention policies for disabled employees, implementing disability training and awareness in the workplace, and reframing accessibility as a topic that everyone should be aware of. concerns.