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Robomop

Author Christina Couch Illustration Graham Roumieu

SEOUL

Not unlike the flying car and the food pill, the robotic housekeeper is one of the promises of modern technology that we’ve been awaiting since The Jetsons went into reruns. Now, after decades of false starts, we’re finally getting a robotic maid/butler worth his weight (121 pounds) in Swiffer refills. Mahru-Z, the brainchild of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul, can cook, clean and even brew coffee and deliver it to you in bed. All you’ve got to do is keep him charged.

Mahru-Z is four feet tall and equipped with two arms, two legs and six fingers (including opposable thumbs). One afternoon at the institute’s testing grounds in Seoul, Mahru-Z is showing off. He walks like a human, but slowly—taking 15 minutes to brew coffee in the test kitchen and 30 seconds to navigate the 10 or so feet to the utility room, where he places test socks in a drier. His repertoire includes other basic chores such as vacuuming and straightening up magazines on a coffee table.

“We’re trying to commercialize robots for home use, especially to help the elderly or the disabled,” explains You Bum-Jae, head of the institute’s cognitive robotics center, as Mahru-Z passes him running a vacuum attachment. “Toyota and Hitachi have announced that they will also be selling home service robots by 2013, so I think this is something we will see more of in the future.”

Roboservants have long been an obsession of high-tech culture, and in recent years, they’ve quietly gone more mainstream. Spanish bank Santander recently launched a line of bright red robotic pods-on-wheels to guide visitors around its Madrid headquarters, and in May a robot presided over a Tokyo couple’s wedding.

But Mahru-Z is a far cry from WALL-E. Slightly bulky and slow, he won’t be marketed commercially for months. Still, You anticipates it’ll radically change the household. That promise may sound familiar, but effortless hot coffee and clean socks are well worth the wait.

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