Demonstrating some of the freedom that its engineers and designers are given, Sony unveiled prototypes of a spherical "healing creature" yesterday evening on the eve of the Robodex 2002 exhibition of entertainment robots.

The device, named Q-Taro, is around 17cm in diameter and weighs approximately 1kg, said Sony. It consists of a clear outer shell within which is a coloured ball. The ball has several different areas that glow with varying intensities of light and is also home to audio and infrared sensors.

Sony said the device was developed to foster an emotional connection between humans and robot technology. The infrared sensors can detect the presence of a person and bring the Q-Taro to life while audio sensors enable it to roll around the floor in time to music. The glowing lights can help it show 'emotions', said Mina Naito, a spokeswoman for Sony. It will also sense the presence of objects and people to avoid running into them.

Cute it may be, but the Q-Taro is no Aibo, the Sony-developed robotic pet currently on the market.

It was developed by the company's personal audio division, the same people who make the Walkman portable music players, not Sony's entertainment robot division.

While it can react to up to 10 different words, the level of technology inside the Q-Taro is a world away from Aibo or the company's latest humanoid robot, the SDR-4X. Sony said it has no plans to commercialise the Q-Taro at present.