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CNNdotCOM Technofile: iRobot
(CNN) -- Billed as the world's first Internet-controlled robot, iRobot puts users in two places at once
You can steer this Mars rover look-alike via your Web browser from anywhere in the world. With a Linux-based personal computer for a brain, it can climb stairs and has sonar to help it avoid obstacles. When its one-hour battery starts to ebb, it's programmed to hoist itself onto its own recharger.
iRobot's built-in microphone, speakers and digital video camera enable an operator to hear, speak and see from the viewpoint of the robot. "Robotic Telepresence," the company calls it.
"I was inspired to go into this field by seeing 'Star Wars' and the R2-D2 character," Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot, told CNN. "We wanted robots to be friendly and for people to think of them as a helping hand around the house."
The 45-pound machine is steered by pointing and clicking toward a destination. And iRobot's beady laser eyes and animation make it look friendly -- a trait its makers fully intended. It can make eye contact with a seated person by standing up and extending its neck, and has a small vocabulary to express itself.
You may be thinking that the $6,000 price tag is a bit steep for a mechanical body double. But this is a state-of-the-art wireless device that also happens to be a fully functioning portable computer -- complete with Internet access and a Web browser.
iRobot is prompting a new wave of teleconferencing. Not only can you see, hear and speak at meetings from a remote location, but you can also control the robot to look as your co-workers speak in turn around the room.
While this may not be the prettiest way to represent yourself, it certainly is convenient and fun.
And just imagine how useful Web-controlled robots will become once they're equipped with hands and arms. A robot belly that doubles as a refrigerator would also be a good innovation but then again, you might never get some men off the couch.
CNNdotCOM correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.
Sony unveils prototype humanoid robot
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