On November 21, a group of small- to medium-sized venture companies based in western Japan unveiled an autonomous ladybug-shaped robot designed to clean public restrooms at highway rest areas.
The 1-meter (39-inch) tall, 1.35-meter (53-inch) long prototype robot -- named "LadyBird" -- is equipped with water tanks, brushes and other tools needed for heavy-duty scrubbing. Obstacle detection sensors allow the robot to safely perform its duties without running into people.
In addition to cleaning, LadyBird can engage in simple conversation with restroom users, thanks to microphones in its "antennae," speech recognition capabilities and a voice synthesizer. The robot has access to the latest information about traffic conditions on nearby roads, which it can relay to anyone comfortable enough to ask.
The developers, who are building LadyBird for West Nippon Expressway Company Limited (NEXCO), aim to complete the machine by March 2009, and they hope to one day see it cleaning toilets at hotels and other institutions. Lady Bird robots are expected to sell for about 3.5 million yen ($30,000) each.