Toyota Motor Corp headquarters in Tokyo. Photo for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Agency

Tokyo: Toyota Motor Corp. has sold enough cars to put one outside every Japanese home. Now it wants to put robots inside.

Toyota sees a not-so-far-off future in which robots become commonplace in homes, helping with chores — and even offering companionship — in an ageing society where a quarter of the population is over 65 and millions of seniors live alone.

Toyota’s Human Support Robot, or HSR, is the machine the automaker sees as closest to making the leap from lab to living room. The robot-equivalent of a Corolla — all function and no frills — the HSR is basically a retractable arm on wheels with a video screen on top and two large camera eyes that give it the rudiments of a face.

It weighs as much as a half-dozen bowling balls, but can only lift a 1.2kg payload, about the weight of a medium-sized water bottle. Still, loaded with the right software, the machine can do some interesting things.

In a demo this fall, the robot was able to learn where books, pens and other items belonged on a shelf, and clean a room that looked like it had been turned upside-down by a three-year-old. Using its sensor-eyes and its pincer, the machine arranged a pair of slippers neatly on the floor next to each other, with both feet pointing in the same direction.

Asked when its home helpers will be available to consumers, Toyota wouldn’t say. But adviser Masanori Sugiyama, a former top manager in the robot programme, says the HSR could be ready for hospitals and rest homes in two or three years to do simple tasks like tidying up or delivering meals. For machines with more profound skills, the wait will be longer.

“They need to be able to understand what people are thinking and have empathy,” Sugiyama said. “The idea is for the robot to be a friend.”