November 22, 2007 in Business

Toshiba unveils robot designed for work in office

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

Hitachi Ltd. Advance Research Laboratory worker Ryoko Ichinose holds humanoid robot EMIEW 2 during a press preview at its research center in Hitachinaka, north of Tokyo. The 31-inch tall, 29-pound toddler-like robot, developed by Ichinose, had a few problems during a public demonstration of the product.Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

HITACHINAKA, Japan – Hitachi’s new toddler-like robot rolled around and waved for reporters Wednesday, only to crash into a desk and demonstrate the challenge of turning automatons into everyday helpers.

The red and white robot, designed to run errands in offices, wasn’t prepared for the jam of lunch-break wireless network traffic at the company’s research center. Unable to communicate with its handler’s laptop, it smashed into the office furniture as reporters gasped.

Still, the 31-inch tall, 29-pound EMIEW 2 was able to show how it can scoot on two wheels, get on its knees to move on four wheels and even lift its foot about an inch to step over thresholds and bumps.

One feature – wireless control – was at the heart of Wednesday’s mishap.

While showing off its ability to understand human speech, a spectator asked where someone was sitting. It responded in a boylike electronic voice: “I will take you there. Follow me.”

Seconds later, when it tried to maneuver between two desks, it smashed into one of them. A demonstrator reached out just in time to catch the robot by its winglike handles before it toppled over.

Reporters had to wait for an hour until after the lunch break to watch the robot repeat the demonstration – this time smoothly making its way between the desks.

Developers said the robot had performed fine on test runs but acknowledged kinks had to be worked out. Besides the collision, it also suddenly stood motionless at one point.

“We are studying what hurdles need to be overcome to make robots practical,” said Hitachi researcher Takashi Teramoto. “One characteristic we feel we need to ensure for robots is safety.”

Robots are now mostly used as industrial machinery and toys. Hitachi Ltd.’s robot is the latest attempt by Japanese companies to develop one that can be an assistant in daily life.

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