Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), stands for a photograph at the unveiling of the Manned Dragon V2 Space Taxi in Hawthorne, California, U.S. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Attention Elon Musk: A Japanese Robot Maker is Staging Publicity Stunt Outside SpaceX

(Bloomberg) -- Employees arriving for work at SpaceX’s Los Angeles headquarters will be greeted by a mysterious billboard on Monday.

“Dear Elon, our ambition is mashi-mashi as yours. ‘LOVE X ROBOT = LOVOT’ From another X in Tokyo.” (Mashi-mashi is Japanese slang for super-sized toppings in ramen shops.)

Attention Elon Musk: A Japanese Robot Maker is Staging Publicity Stunt Outside SpaceX

Groove X Inc., a Tokyo-based startup developing robots with emotional rather than utilitarian skills, is behind the marketing stunt aimed at Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

“First, we would like him to know that we exist,” said Kaname Hayashi, who started Groove X with the goal of building and selling robots that can serve as a buddy, like R2-D2, or Japan’s Doraemon. “We would also like people to imagine a future where we share our lives with robots, and especially what it will be like for people on Mars. Chances are, there is no living well without some kind of robots when we get to Mars.”

Groove X’s caper aims to capitalize on SpaceX and Musk’s fame, and coincides with a plan unveiled earlier on Monday to raise as much as 6.45 billion yen ($57 million) from investors including Sparx Group Co. and state-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan.

While most of the world’s 1.8 million robots can be found on factory assembly lines, Groove X thinks there will be just as much market potential for a robot that can be an emotional companion. So far, attempts to use machines as a human-like partner, such as SoftBank Group Corp.’s talking Pepper, haven’t met with much success. Hayashi, a former Formula One engineer at Toyota Motor Corp., was hired by SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son in 2012 to lead Pepper’s development. He left in 2015 to found Groove X.

Hayashi is keeping the details of his gadget under wraps, and promises to unveil it in late 2018. The machine will be larger than Sony Corp.’s Aibo, but smaller than Pepper, Hayashi said. He’s tight-lipped about what Groove X’s robot will actually do, saying only that it will appeal to people stressed out by modern life. And it will do so without talking.

Linguistically, Groove X’s publicity stunt might be hard to parse.  The term mashi-mashi is probably a nod to a picture that Musk tweeted in 2014 of a Ramen Jiro shop, which popularized the phrase. “Lovot” works better in Japanese because the “b” and “v” sounds are almost indistinguishable.

“Language is a double-edged sword,” Hayashi said. “When it comes to healing, words are not always necessary.”

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To contact the authors of this story: Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo at palpeyev@bloomberg.net, Takako Taniguchi in Tokyo at ttaniguchi4@bloomberg.net.

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