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1 Sep, 2008 02:46

Robots picking up new tricks en route to becoming big business

A robot which talks, climbs stairs and serves drinks has been shown to the public at the Moscow Motor Show. Experts say machines are ready to start working with people. The trouble is – they have an image problem.

Asimo recognizes faces and understands questions. Its computer backpack can be programmed to fetch coffee. Makers, Honda, claim Asimo's the only humanoid robot in the world who climbs stairs.

The developers see old and sick people as first users according to Jean-Luc de Krahe, Events Coordinator at Asimo Studio.

“As a personal assistant to help people in their homes, or as a nurse. With handicapped people, for instance. That's why Asimo has its size, I mean 1metre 30, because it will be much more comfortable in the future to have an assistant at the same height as your eyes when you're sitting on a bed or a wheelchair.”

Robots have worked in industry since 1961 but were thought too expensive and dangerous to put among humans. Now IRobot's already sold millions of these $200 home cleaners. Sergey Apresov, Editor in Chief at Popular Mechanics says the next step is direct work with humans, and the only barrier is psychological.

“A housekeeper may think 'How this little machine may do the work for me, because I know how to do this work, I know how to reach different, difficult corners.' It's a matter of time, and this time is rather short.”

Asimo's already used to carry paper round Japanese offices. Developers are now teaching it human-style learning-by-experience. Show it a spoon and cup, through trial and error it learns to put one in the other. Robots are on the verge of critical mass in three key areas, that's price, looks and safety. That means their time has almost come, in the home, office and TV studio.