Sharp to sell moody robotic vacuum with video streaming, remote control by phone

The company's new "Cocorobo" will go on sale in Japan for ¥130,000 (US$1,600), then launch in China and other Asian countries.

Sharp's new robot vacuum isn't always happy to do your housework.

The company announced a Roomba-like device Tuesday, with a host of features including a mounted camera that streams video to mobile phones, voice recognition and a built-in air purifier. It's also a bit moody.

Cocorobo, a name that combines "heart" and "robot" in Japanese, will occasionally complain about being tired, or say it's not having that great of a day. Sharp wants to develop a new line of home appliances that have personality and communicate with their owners, like housekeeper pets.

(Watch the Cocorobo in action on YouTube.)

"We've developed a product that is a vacuum cleaner, but I think there is a need for automated products beyond vacuums. There will be new demand for such products and so we want to create them, without limiting ourselves to vacuums," said Jitsuo Sakamoto, a division manager at Sharp who addressed reporters in Tokyo.

The new vacuum connects to a Wi-Fi network and can be controlled using a mobile phone app for iPhones and Android devices. The app works as a remote control and displays a video stream from its front-mounted camera, though those features don't work on remote networks for security purposes. The app can also record voice messages for playback to family members through the vacuum or spin around and take images so remote users can check on their homes and pets while they're away.

The device uses three ultrasonic sensors to avoid obstacles, covering floors in a semi-random pattern. It responds to voice commands like "Clean Up" or "Go Home," and occasionally chatters to itself, muttering "Ouch!" after it bumps into a wall.

The full-featured, intelligent version of the Cocorobo will sell for around ¥130,000 (US$1,600). A more basic version will sell for ¥90,000. It will be available in Japan in early June and released in China within the next few months, then expanded to other Asian countries.

Sakamoto said Sharp wants to eventually launch in the U.S. and Europe, but has no solid plans to do so yet.

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Jay Alabaster

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