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Robots to rule the roost

Fujitsu's Maron-1 helps you control your house via a mobile handset

Fujitsu Laboratories has come up with a home robot you can control from your mobile phone. The vacuum cleaner-sized Maron-1 robot can also upload video images to your handset. It should be available on the Japanese market within a year, according to its developers.

The home help bot, can travel around your house to carry out tasks like monitor a particular area — for example, your entrance hall — or keeping an eye on your pets. You can either order Maron-1 to do certain jobs by sending commands via your phone and then watching the video it feeds back, or it can be set to contact you when a specific event occurs, such as movement in the hallway.

"The Maron-1 has three main uses," said Takashi Uchiyama, general manager of the peripheral system laboratories at Fujitsu Laboratories. "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 a mobile phone handset. When at home, a touchpad with five menu keys and 4in LCD (liquid crystal display) mounted in the front centre of the robot can be used for control.

Maron-1 is the result of two years of 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 testbed by these 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 (£1,031) sometime within the next year.

Maron-1 weighs around 5kg and measures 32x36x32cm. Its sensors include an infrared unit for operating devices via remote control, two video cameras and a proximity sensor. The internal battery provides enough power for around 12 hours of use, said Uchiyama.


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