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New robot to guide customers at stores

Fujitsu's 4-foot-tall creation will go on sale for $54,000

TOKYO — Lost in a store? Let Japanese electronics maker Fujitsu's robot help guide your way.

Equipped with voice recognition capabilities, cameras and sensors, the four-foot-tall robot on wheels will go on sale for 6 million yen, or $54,000, in Japan in November — for just such a purpose.

Tokyo-based Fujitsu Ltd. plans to sell about 20 or 30 of the robots, called "enon" (pronounced EH-nohn), which stands for "exciting nova on network," and already has received about 10 orders.

The price tag covers just the machine — software programs cost extra. Fujitsu refused to give a price estimate for the software.

Enon can find its way around an office or store, based on a map of the location preprogrammed into its computer brain, at up to 1.9 mph.

Its mechanical arms and hands can lift objects weighing just over a pound.

Japan boasts one of the most advanced robot industries in the world. Industrial robots are widely used in plants, including those of major auto companies. Robots are also being developed for entertainment.

Enon is geared toward use in stores or restaurants, and Fujitsu says that down the road it may help alleviate shortages in Japan's labor force due to the declining birthrate and growing elderly population.

"We hope that robots like this will be able to help people in an aging society whose population is declining," Tokuichi Shishido, director at Fujitsu Frontech, said last week.

The round-headed robot greeted journalists, saying in a female voice: "Hello. Welcome to Fujitsu. I'm enon. Are you a reporter?"

But the demonstration of its capabilities wasn't exactly impressive.

It led the crowd down a hallway to a room, and failed to see a basket with pamphlets it was supposed to pick up.

In another demonstration, it rolled away a few feet and placed a box on a table — after knocking it over a few times.

Fujitsu is among a burgeoning number of Japanese makers counting on a market for service robots like enon, where software solutions will drive the business rather than sophisticated machinery.

Fujitsu foresees the worldwide service robot market as growing to 100 billion yen ($907 million) by 2010. It wants enon to become a mass-produced product in a year or so, and hopes to bring down its price to 2 million yen ($18,000).

In Japan, where people love gadgets and robots, enon may be spotted at stores and restaurants soon, Fujitsu said.