Nissan’s interactive puppet entertains fussy babies so parents can drive

Before parenthood, it’s near impossible to fully understand just how much a child takes over your once-freewheeling life. Sometimes you can’t even get a moment of peace when you’re driving. That’s where Nissan’s Iruyo, a fuzzy doll that can entertain a baby, comes in.

When your humble scribe was growing up, kids just rode seatbelt-less and moved freely around the car, station wagon cargo area, or pickup bed. Then some genius decided to install airbags everywhere so that babies have to be strapped into the back seat facing the rear of the car. Yes, this is the safest option, but it doesn’t change the fact that it makes it nearly impossible for a lone parent to see what the kid is up to without perfectly angling a bunch of mirrors like you’re trying to bounce lasers.

Trying to soothe an upset baby while driving can be a major distraction. For a whole year and a half, they can’t even talk to indicate what’s wrong. According to Nissan’s research, more than 80% of parents driving solo with a child said they couldn’t comfort their babies when they cried.

To solve this problem, Nissan developed Iruyo, a plushie that resembles that red haired monster from Bugs Bunny. Described as an “Intelligent Puppet,” it’s strapped to the car in view of the baby and works with a smaller matching doll, called Baby Iruyo, that rides up front with mom or dad.

The Baby Iruyo acts like a mic, picking up the parent driver’s words and transmitting them to the Iruyo riding in the back with the baby. The big Iruyo then moves in accordance with the parent’s voice, waving, doing a little dance in rhythm with the parent’s singing, or playing peek-a-boo. 

Iruyo, which is Japanese for “I’m here,” also uses facial recognition tech to see when the baby is sleeping. When the kiddo closes their eyes, it transmits that back to the Baby Iruyo in front, which then closes its eyes to let the parent know junior is off to slumberland.

Nissan found that 90% of babies pay attention to Iruyo’s movements, and that the emotional state of more than half the babies in their study improved when interacting with the doll, even when strapped into the carseat. 

Nissan developed a few variations of Iruyo as well. There’s one with white fur and one with pink. Each color Iruyo also gets three different looks — plain, wearing a beanie, or wearing glasses. 

For now, Iruyo is still an experimental item, but Nissan says it will do some trials in Japan and take feedback from customers. Who knows, maybe you can have an Iruyo of your very own someday. Now if they could only figure out how to prevent food from getting all over the upholstery.