New Home Robot

What do you get when you cross a bathtub rubber duckie, a Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle and the Honda Asimo? Apparently, you get the latest robot prototype, "wakamaru," Mitsubishi’s answer to Sony and Honda’s perennially-prototypical robots.

Dispensing with the whole walking thing, wakamaru motors around on wheels. The bot is basically an Internet node on wheels and will be able to read you your mail, let you shop online from the couch ("Wakamaru, go to Amazon and get me that awesome new robot book by Gareth Branwyn I’ve heard so much about. Whatya mean it sucks? What are you a critic, now?"), let you monitor your house from a Web browser while you’re away — the usual promised functions (for which you REALLY don’t need a luxury-car-priced robot!). The robot will also allegedly recognize 10,000 words (Japanese words, that is), recognize a dozen or so faces, and will be self-charging,

A fascinating twist on robot navigation, the wakamaru maps the ceilings of rooms (rather than the usual floors) to get its bearings (and then uses infrared and ultrasonic sensors for obstacle avoidance).

The name "wakamaru" comes from the famous Japanese samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune "whose childhood name was "Ushi-wakamaru" and who reminds us of "growth" and "development." Two sensors on the forehead represent the trademark eyebrows of this character." Hopefully, the name also doesn’t remind us of clean, effortless beheadings with one graceful swipe of a Katana blade.