Toyota premieres violin-playing robot

IDG News Service |  Personal Tech

Toyota unveiled on Thursday
the latest two creations from its robot project, including one that can play
the violin, and said it is targeting the early 2010s for the development of
a viable human-assistance robot.

The two new machines are the Mobiro, a sort of motorized wheel chair that can
scoot people around their neighborhood and is able to cope with uneven surfaces,
and the Violin-Playing Robot. Toyota has already developed a robot capable of
playing the trumpet, so with a little extra effort the company could soon have
an entire band.

Like the Segway transporter, the Mobiro runs on two wheels and manages to maintain
its balance. This distinguishes it from other forms of motorized transport tested
so far for human use. The Mobiro rider sits in a chair and manipulates the robot
through controls in the chair's arm rests. It can cope with 10 degree slopes
and turn on the spot.

Perhaps more interestingly, it will automatically approach its owner when called
by a remote control, avoiding obstacles in its path on the way. The Mobiro can
also be used to carry cargo or other people and in this mode it automatically
follows its owner or keeps a few steps ahead of them.

The 150-kilogram Mobiro has a 20-kilometer range and field tests will begin
in the second half of 2008.

The Violin-Playing Robot may have an unimaginative name but it's capable of
some pretty impressive musical moves. The robot can hold the violin in place
with one hand and move the bow with its other to produce a perfect-sounding
tune. It can also move the fingers of its left hand, which rest at the violin's
neck, to produce a tremolo effect.

It stands 1.5 meters tall and weighs 56 kilograms, which puts it not far off
the height and weight of an average Japanese woman.

At a Tokyo news conference to unveil the new robots, Toyota also showed its
Robina robot, which made its first public appearance in the middle of this year.
The Robina is designed for face-to-face communication with humans. In that role,
the robot served as a guide at the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall in Toyota City
in August this year.

The robot can automatically navigate a route through obstacles and, by holding
a pen in one hand and a piece of card in the other, sign its signature on the

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