Mitsubishi’s Latest Creation: A Linux-powered Robot

Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. has turned out a three-foot high robot which can recognize faces and carry on a conversation with humans.

Called “Wakamaru,” the robot is designed as a helper for elderly people, the disabled or others living independently. It can reportedly recognize 10,000 words and adapt to the personality of its owner.

The robot runs on a version of Linux designed for embedded systems, from MontaVista Software. MontaVista was showing off the robot at the Embedded Systems Conference this week in San Francisco.

Linux’ robust nature “plays an important role in enabling Wakamaru to service a household 24 hours a day,” says Ken Onishi, an engineering manager in Mitsubishi?s robotics group.

The robot features continuous access to the Internet and comes equipped with voice and face recognition capabilities that allow it to search for and follow voices, faces and movements. It can understand and respond to human speech based on a built-in dictionary, and can be programmed to call or e-mail a designated person, a hospital or security firm if it notices a problem.

Users can use the robot’s built-in camera-equipped mobile phone to connect to it remotely, allowing them to see images of the house the robot serves and communicate with family members at home.

Wakamaru is 3.3 feet tall and weighs 60 pounds. The battery-operated robot moves about on wheels and recharges itself when its batteries run low. It will be available in the Japanese market first, beginning in 2004, for about 1 million yen (approximately US $14,250).