'Telepresence' robot makes waves at tech fair

Many visitors walking around CeBIT, the world's biggest high-tech fair, have found themselves bumping into "Jazz", a "telepresence" robot also ambling around the vast expo.

Created by French firm Gostai, "Jazz" is a shiny white humanoid robot that its makers believe could transform business meetings and reduce the need for long-distance travel.

Controllable by anyone with access to the Internet via a laptop or even smartphone, "Jazz" projects its user's presence, showing his or her face on its own "face" and speaking in its user's voice.

Launched only two months ago, "Jazz" could easily deputise for a manager in a business meeting, or tour a factory or shop floor, both recording and beaming back what it sees to its user, said Gostai employee Segolene Roche.

"The main advantage over teleconferencing is its mobility," she told AFP.

It can run for five straight hours - at around four kilometres (2.5 miles) per hour - without needing to be recharged and returns to its charging station when it runs out of juice.

A sleeker, slightly more sinister, black version is also available to serve as a robot security guard.

This robot, quiet and faceless, can be programmed to prowl around a factory or warehouse and alert the authorities if it detects people up to no good.

"Jazz", which is making its debut at an international tech fair, is yours for 7,900 euros (10,900 dollars). Its beefier security counterpart will set you back 1,000 euros more.

More than 4,200 exhibitors are showcasing their latest wares at the CeBIT, which is expected to attract some 350,000 people before it shuts up shop on March 5.