Hitachi’s new robot wheels around, but crashes

Hitachi’s new robot wheels around, but crashes

Hitachinaka (Japan): The new toddler-like robot from Hitachi rolled around and waved in a demonstration Wednesday, only to crash into a desk - highlighting the hurdles robots must overcome to become real-life partners.

Never mind that the 80 cm (31.5 inch) tall, 13 kg (29 pound) machine could scoot on two wheels, get on its knees to move on four wheels and even lift its foot 3 cm (about an inch) to step over thresholds and bumps.

The red and white robot, designed to work as a guide and run errands in offices, was not prepared for the jam of lunch-break wireless and Internet traffic at Hitachi Ltd.’s research centre and smashed into a desk right in the middle of a demonstration for reporters.

The reporters gasped and a demonstrator reached out in the nick of time to catch the robot by its winglike handles before it toppled over, unable to receive the wireless commands from the person controlling the robot by remote from a nearby laptop.

Robots are now mostly used as industrial machinery and entertainment gadgets. But Hitachi’s new robot is the latest attempt by several Japanese companies to develop one that can play roles as assistants in daily life. Engineers are working hard to create robots that run smoothly and safely so that people are not hurt.

In 2005, Hitachi had shown the robot’s 130 cm (51 inch) tall predecessor. The original EMIEW, which stands for “excellent mobility and interactive existence as workmate", packed all the computer functions internally but weighed four times as much.