NEC’s R100 is a partner robot – designed to be a household companion rather than just an appliance. Development began in 1997 with the intent to bridge the gap between computers and people who don’t use them (young children or elderly adults) by means of natural communication. This brought with it many challenges, including what the robot should look like. In an attempt to keep things simple, initial designs for the robot were nothing more than an amorphous blob with eyes. By 1999 NEC was publicly demonstrating the one shown here, which can visually recognize members of the family, understand simple conversation and words, and move around the house autonomously without getting lost or bumping into things.
The R100 can also be used as a universal remote, controlling various appliances throughout your home from voice commands. Additionally, the R100 has tactile sensors so that it knows when it is being petted or touched. However, the R100 lacked the ability to self-charge when in need, so instead it would find a person and ask to be plugged in.
NEC developed proprietary software to address all of these issues, with the more complex functions (such as speech and object recognition) being handled by an external computer. Though NEC publically demonstrated the R100 several times, it never made it to market having been succeeded by the more advanced version, PaPeRo, in 2001.
NEC | Impress Robot Watch