Home robots 'a reality' from 2010

Robots could be a fact of a every day life in the next decade - assuming car giant Toyota gets it way.

For Toyota announced two new versions of its Partner Robot series yesterday, both of which promise to make our lives easier, while entertaining us as well.

First up is the Toyota Mobility Robot - a personal transport robot that's a cross between a Segway and a wheelchair. Toyota says it's been designed to help us get around anywhere, even up and downstairs. You can even use it to help you do the shopping - it'll follow you around, autonomously finding its way around obstacles to get to you.

Toyota says the robot has a range of 20km (12.4 miles) on one hour of battery charge, and can travel at a top speed of 6kmh (3.7mph). The Mobility Robot will embark on a practical use trial late next year.

World's first ironing robot?

At first glance the second 'bot looks less useful, chiefly because Toyota's taken to calling it a Violin-Playing Robot. In practice it should a great deal more useful than that: its key function is to perform domestic chores, nursing and medical care. It's ideal then for countries, like Japan, which face a growth in the numbers of elderly and infirm.

Standing 1.5m high, the human-like Violin-Playing Robot has been designed to be as dextrous as possible - hence Toshiba's claim that it can "achieve vibrato on a violin similar to that created by humans". Toyota says it's now trying make the bot's arms and hands more flexible so it can use general purpose tools - looks like the long-fabled ironing robot is getting closer every day.

Toyota, of course, isn't alone in wanting to develop home-help robots. Honda has been beavering away on its version - dubbed Asimo - for over 20 years, and he's getting smaller, smarter and more useful with every iteration. Even Sony has dabbled in entertainment robots, both with its Aibo robot pet and Qrio robot man, although it was forced to abandon the program following major restructuring.

Four rules for future robots

For robots to be used successfully in the home, of course, they have to achieve four nearly impossible tasks:

  • They have to be as good as - or preferably better than - humans doing to same task
  • They have to not scare you witless - I, Robot style - every time they pop their head around the door
  • They have to not fall over and crush you / your children / the pet dog to death
  • They have to promise not to take over the world, enslave us and turn us all into organic, living batteries

Just make sure you remember that Toyota, OK?