New Fujitsu home robot takes orders over the phone

Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. has developed a home robot capable of being controlled by and sending video images to a mobile phone and hopes to have the device on sale within a year, it announced Monday.

The vacuum cleaner-sized Maron-1 robot is capable of traveling around an apartment or house (it cannot climb stairs) to perform tasks such as monitoring a particular spot, like an entrance hallway, or checking on a pet. Such tasks can either be performed on demand, with the user sending commands from a cellular telephone handset and watching the video signal from Maron-1's built-in cameras, or the robot can be programmed to contact the user via telephone when an event occurs, such as movement is detected in the hallway.

"The Maron-1 has three main uses," said Takashi Uchiyama, general manager of the peripheral system laboratories at Fujitsu Laboratories, at a Tokyo news conference to announce the robot. "The first is for home monitoring. Users can see what is happening in their house. The second is to control appliances, such as television sets and air conditioners, and the third is to monitor and alert the owner if anything is happening."

Remote communication with Maron-1 is via a PC Card wireless modem which uses Japan's PHS (personal handyphone system) packet data network. The user can control the robot via a Java applet that, at present, runs inside an NTT DoCoMo Inc. cellular handset. When at home, a touchpad with five menu keys and 4-inch (10-centimeter) LCD (liquid crystal display) mounted in the center on the front of the robot can be used for control.

Maron-1 is the result of two years work by the same team that created Fujitsu's Hoap-1 biped robot, according to Uchiyama. The Hoap-1, announced in September last year, is already on sale to universities and research establishments and is being used as a test-bed by the customers for further research into robot technologies. Unlike the Hoap-1 robot, Fujitsu is planning to target the consumer market with Maron-1 and Uchiyama said the company hopes to be able to put it on sale for less than ¥200,000 (US$1,625) sometime within the next year.

Maron-1 weighs around five kilograms and measures 32 centimeters by 36 centimeters by 32 centimeters. Its sensors include an infrared unit for operating devices via remote control, two video cameras and a proximity sensor. The internal Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) provides enough power for around 12 hours of use, said Uchiyama.

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Martyn Williams

PC World
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