With the proliferation of real-world robots in Japan recently, it's unsurprising to find some that are clearly designed to replace salary-drawing human staff on reasonably routine jobs. One such is the Ubiko T2-4, a building-patrol robot with a special line in sniffing smoke, with or without fire.

The droid, which was demonstrated at Kyushu University in western Japan yesterday, is a joint project from that institute, Kanazawa University near Tokyo and robot specialist Tmsuk . In essence, it's an upgrade from an earlier model but the new technology is the centre of attention here.

Garlic and perfume ignored

T2-4's robotic nose is the first of its kind to be sufficiently sensitive to distinguish between different odours when looking for fire hazards. In the test, the 'bot was dispatched to patrol the university corridors seeking smoke where it should not be. After passing through rooms filled with potentially distracting garlic and perfume smells, it correctly identified a room with a stinky ashtray by scent alone.

Naturally, had this been in a no-smoking building, the consequent alert sent to the control centre might have provided early warning of a fire. As it is, the T2-4 still awaits the day when he'll be given a hose and a shiny yellow helmet.