Clean-living robot moves into the sitting room

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In his novel 3001, the science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke envisaged a future where tiny household robots came out at night to take care of domestic chores while humans were asleep. That dream looks set to move a little closer to reality - with the advent of the self-operating vacuum cleaner.

The domestic robot, which can be left to clean the carpets unsupervised and more thoroughly than by human hand, is set to be unveiled today by one of the world's biggest electronic companies. The miniature, disc-shaped Electrolux android (pictured) is able to navigate its way around a room without collisions, due to an electronic brain and sophisticated navigational radar system. Its shape is said to have been inspired by the trilobite, an arthropod which lived hundreds of millions of years ago and survived by crawling along the ocean bed, sucking up microscopic debris.

The man who likes exotic hi-tech electronic gadgets for Christmas might not appreciate its menial nature, but when it goes into mass production in the next few years, he should at least find it affordable - it is expected to retail for about pounds 500 in high-street stores.

The robot is battery-powered and initially travels slowly around a room, "memorising" its dimensions. Its height enables it to travel under furniture and it can move around small objects without touching them. It cleans 95 per cent of the accessible floor area, compared with an average 75 per cent for humans (although some households might treat 75 per cent as unusually clean). The robot takes approximately 20 minutes to clean an average-sized living room, and it can do an entire floor if doors are left open. It is able to do this because it is mounted on high-grip rubber wheels and a central castor, which allows it to swivel out of the way of obstacles. It is, however, unable to negotiate stairs.

Last June, Japanese scientists unveiled their prototype "delivery robot", designed to move around homes or offices. Other domestic robots said to be in development include Honda's two-legged waiter, and a small machine that can crawl up drainpipes in order to clean gutters. Perhaps mindful of the domestic panics caused by appliances being left on, Electrolux have ensured that their vacuum cleaner turns itself off when finished, and some models will automatically return to an electronic charging stand.

As Electrolux's offices were unmanned yesterday, The Independent was unable to determine whether the vacuum cleaner would also moan that there was something on the television that it wanted to watch, keep hold of all loose change found under the sofa, and then demand admiration for having performed the task.

Jojo Moyes

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