|Toyota Motor Corp.'s violin robot, in a performance last month, used its mechanical fingers to push the strings and bowed with its other arm. The automaker is placing a priority on robotics. (KATSUMI KASAHARA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Robots to drive core Toyota business
TOKYO - Compared to a virtuoso, its rendition was a trifle stilted and, well, robotic. But
The 5-foot-tall, all-white robot used its mechanical fingers to press the strings correctly and bowed with its other arm, coordinating the movements well.
Toyota Motor Corp. has already shown robots that roll around to work as guides and have fingers dexterous enough to play the trumpet.
Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said robotics will be a core business for the company in coming years. Toyota will test its robots at hospitals, Toyota-related facilities, and other places starting next year, he said. And the company hopes to put what it calls "partner robots" to real use by 2010, he said.
"We want to create robots that are useful for people in everyday life," he told reporters last month at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo.
Watanabe and other company officials said robotics was a natural extension of the automaker's use of robots in manufacturing, as well the development of technology for autos related to artificial intelligence, such as sensors and precrash safety systems.
Watanabe presented a vision of the future in which wheelchair-like "mobility robots" would offer "bed-to-bed" services to people, including the elderly and the sick, just like cars take people "door-to-door."
In a demonstration, a man got on the mobility robot, a motorized two-wheeled chair, then scooted around. Toyota showed how the moving machine could go up and down slopes and go over bumps without upsetting the person sitting on the chair because the wheels could adjust to such changes.
The Japanese government has been recently pushing companies and researchers to make robotics a pillar of this nation's business.
Toyota, maker of the Prius hybrid and best-selling Camry sedan, has been a relative latecomer in robots compared to its domestic rival
Honda has been working on robots since 1986, recognizing the technology as critical for its future in delivering mobility. It displayed the latest technology in its own robot - the Asimo humanoid - last month.
Asimo - which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility and is a play on the Japanese word for "legs" - first became available for rental in 2000. It's considered one of the world's most advanced humanoids. Seen often at Honda and other events, it can walk, even jog, wave, avoid obstacles, and carry on simple conversations.
The 51-inch-tall bubble-headed Asimo looks like a real-life child in a white space-suit, as it has grown smaller and lighter in size with innovations over the years.
Trying to one-up its rival, Toyota has been aggressively beefing up its robotics team. In August, it said it was teaming up with
Toyota said it is working with universities and its group companies to speed up robotics development, but ruled out a collaboration with Honda for the time being.
Toyota executive vice president Takeshi Uchiyamada said technology that Toyota has developed in industrial manufacturing and automotive engineering will "spiral up" into robots.
"We hope to create a robot that highlights Toyota's strengths," he said.