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Toshiba develops "life support" robot

ApriAlpha designed to be the ultimate home help

Toshiba has developed a home-help robot that can chat to its owners, respond to voice commands and even recognise faces. The ApriAlpha is designed to work as a user-friendly interface between equipment in a home network and the people who use it.

Toshiba hopes to develop the robot to the point where it can act as a "life support partner" that can handle household chores and help care for the sick or aged. ApriAlpha, which looks a bit like a funky vacuum cleaner with a webcam and dinky LCD (liquid crystal display) mounted on top, measures 350x350x380mm and weighs 9.5kg.

The bot features voice-recognition technology, which allows it to follow spoken instructions. When called, it can detect and move towards the speaker, and voice synthesis capabilities allow ApriAlpha to talk — handy for reading aloud emails, for instance. It can also recognise any faces stored in its memory.

Wireless technologies means the robot can be controlled from outside the house using a mobile phone, while also allowing it to operate household devices via a Bluetooth-compliant home server. A built-in infrared remote control lets the ApriAlpha function as a voice-activated, multipurpose remote control for home appliances.

The robot has a claimed battery life of two hours, but Toshiba says it can use direct methanol fuel cells to provide backup power.

To stop it from bumping into things as it tools around the house, it features obstacle avoidance technology, and it can be programmed to automatically follow a surveillance route.

At present the ApriAlpha is at the concept stage, but Toshiba hopes to commercialise it in Japan. No details on a release date are available yet.


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