NEC may have finally found a use for a robot that's been "twiddling its thumbs" since the 1990s.
The coffeemaker-sized PaPeRo robot has communication skills and cute looks, but NEC has struggled to find a practical use for it.
The company has unveiled PaPeRo Petit, a more compact version of the droid that it wants to develop with business and application partners through the PaPeRo Petit Partner program. The droid could start functioning as a home assistant as early as January.
Opening up the robot to third parties could help its chances of becoming a viable product, though NEC didn't announce many details about the new partner program.
PaPeRo Petit is about 9 inches tall -- half the size of the previous version -- and weighs 2.8 pounds. The compact Petit is meant to work with cloud-based applications, according to NEC.
It's equipped with a camera, microphone, and sensors that measure temperature and distance. It can recognize faces and link to online databases to better communicate with people.
NEC sees PaPeRo working in roles such as watching over distant loved ones, guarding homes when owners are away, and serving customers as a cashier in shops -- something it has tried with PaPeRo.
The electronics maker is seeking partners for PaPeRo development. It could offer elderly-monitoring services via PaPeRo for less than $100 a month, first in Japan and then overseas, according to Kyodo News.
Meanwhile, NEC is showing off the little droid this week at a Tokyo conference on infrastructure. We'll see if and when it gets off the stage and into people's lives.