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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vacuum Cleaners Becoming Smarter

TOKYO -- The vacuum-cleaning robot from Japanese electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. still crashes into chair legs and leaves lots of corners unswept.

But the unnamed test model, shown to reporters Monday, is set to go on sale in two or three years with a hefty price tag of 500,000 yen ($3,800), the Osaka-based company said.

Even that target price depends on technological developments over the next few years that should bring down costs, officials said.

The cordless machine, slightly bigger than a basketball, cost 200 million yen to develop.

The company, which makes the Panasonic brand, has no export plans for the robot.

Matsushita said its autonomous-control technology can be used in other housekeeping robots that can work as a security guard or a caretaker for children or the elderly when equipped with features such as cameras and mobile connections.

With eye-like lights glowing in the front and the back, the vacuuming robot comes with 50 sonic, infrared and other types of sensors so it turns before running into walls and avoids falling off steps.

Running for 55 minutes on a single battery charge, it figures out the size of a room by circling around it once and then travels horizontally and vertically to crisscross the room to vacuum 92 percent of the floor space, Matsushita said.

It cannot clean the edges because it's designed to stop 15 centimeters before a wall and other obstacles that are at least 3 centimeters wide.

"We have long been tackling the automation of domestic chores," said Matsushita director Yoshitaka Hayashi. "Robots will someday guard against fires and burglary in homes while people are asleep."

In a demonstration at Matsushita's Tokyo office, the vacuuming robot inched around a set similar to a living room, avoiding cabinets and furniture but leaving large portions near walls untouched. A person would have to use a regular vacuum cleaner to do a more thorough job, Matsushita said.

The robot took about nine minutes to finish the task, but officials acknowledged a person could do it in about five minutes. The robot also needs more work because it can get stuck under chairs and tables, they said.

The robot is designed to suck things up more powerfully and slow down when traveling over dusty areas. Several of the robots will be tested in Japanese homes starting in May.

A number of Japanese companies are selling and developing robots for homes, although the offerings from Sony Corp., for example, are strictly for entertainment. Matsushita has developed vacuuming robots for industrial use, but they weren't designed to dodge obstacles.

Japan leads the world in robot use, accounting for nearly half of the new robots installed worldwide in 2000, according to the United Nations.