As a teaser for its groundbreaking LOVOT companion robots, scheduled for release in 2019, Japanese start-up GROOVE X has adopted a guerilla approach, placing billboards in strategic locations with the aim of taking its promotion viral.
One of these billboards (pictured) was placed outside of SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, as a gesture of respect for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The move is timed to correspond with the Dec. 4 announcement that GROOVE X, founded November 2015, had raised a Series A funding round valued at JPY 4.2 billion (about $37.5 million). This places the company firmly among the top echelon of Japanese start-ups, with a total of approximately JPY 8 billion in capital raised so far, from investors including Mirai Creation Investment Limited Partnership (backed by Toyota Motor, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, and SPARX Group); Japanese government-led investment fund the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ); Global Catalyst Partners Japan; China’s Shenzhen Capital Group; and Taiwan’s AmTRAN Technology.
The name LOVOT (pronounced “love-ot”) is based on the concept “Love x Robot = LOVOT.” GROOVE X says its goal is to create relatable companion robots that provide vital emotional support through AI-driven interactions. Though GROOVE X is being pretty hush-hush about what to expect from LOVOT, check out the video below for a quick glimpse of what might be coming. GROOVE X says it is working to unveil LOVOT by the end of 2018 ahead of a planned Japan launch in 2019, and subsequent roll-out to other markets.
“We have received huge support from numerous partners both in Japan and overseas, all of whom believe that LOVOT can become an indispensable companion to human beings,” GROOVE X says in a statement. “Furthermore, supporters in Japan have high expectations that we can add to the country’s long tradition of innovative businesses.”
The message on the billboard targeted at SpaceX reads, “Dear Elon, Our ambition is mashi-mashi as yours.” The Japanese slang term “mashi mashi” means “more, more” and is commonly used when ordering at the popular ramen chain which Musk visited during his Summer 2014 trip to Tokyo. An image of the restaurant posted to Musk’s personal Instagram account with the caption “Noodles in Shinjuku” attracted more than 83,000 likes. Like SpaceX, which is currently working to advance the process that will eventually enable humans to colonize Mars, GROOVE X says it, too, is striving toward a momentous goal: that of creating close relationships between people and robots.
Parallel to the Hawthorne ad, GROOVE X placed a second billboard (pictured below) near the Tokyo offices of Softbank, the digital communications giant and creator of apopular humanoid robot to which GROOVE X CEO Kaname Hayashi himself also contributed as lead developer. The Tokyo billboard offers another playful statement of intent: “Perhaps what the world needs now isn’t robots, but …”
Billboards will run from Dec. 4 to Dec. 31, 2017, in the U.S., and to Jan. 3, 2018, in Japan, respectively. But what, might you ask, is the thinking behind this unusual promotional tactic? GROOVE X says that the billboards are intended as not only an advertising campaign to promote LOVOT, but also as a symbol of admiration towards SpaceX and Softbank, both led by individuals whom Hayashi sees as a great inspiration.
“Elon Musk has inspired me tremendously by showing the world many new concepts and the spirit of challenge,” said Hayashi. “Like Space X, we strive to create a new business – in our case from Japan — so Hawthorne was an ideal place to express that passion. I’m sure that LOVOT will become an essential part of human life – not only here on Earth, but also on Mars.”