Fuel cells that generate electricity via a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen are emerging as an environment-friendly alternative source of power.

While they are used in a wide range of products, from motor vehicles to household power generators, a Tokyo company has found a unique application — powering a robot guard and receptionist.

Sohgo Security Services Co., a major security firm, is currently developing a robot equipped with a fuel-cell battery that will work round the clock for one week without a recharge.

“Technically, we have almost completed the robot,” said Takao Ariki, a senior researcher of Sohgo Security. “We will be the world’s first company to produce and market a robot with a fuel-cell battery.”

The current model, Guard-Robo C-4, is powered by a conventional lead battery and works continuously for 2-1/2 hours after three hours of charging. It is designed to work as a receptionist while being charged and go on patrol a few times each night.

Sohgo Security is aiming to equip the robot with a fuel-cell battery to be supplied from Yuasa Corp., a major battery maker.

It has already developed a prototype and demonstrated it at the ROBODEX-2003 exhibition in Yokohama in April.

The company intends to start marketing the fuel-cell security robot by the end of 2005.

Sohgo Security started developing its first security robot in 1982. In July 1997, a series of tests of the robot were conducted in cooperation with Fuji TV.

The trials, conducted in one of the broadcaster’s Tokyo offices, were successful and the company began selling the robot in April 2002.

The 1.4-meter-tall unit navigates within a building in accordance with a programmed schedule and map. It can even move between floors by sending a signal to the building control center when it wants to use an elevator.

“It was difficult to develop the program to make the robot make routine patrols,” Ariki said.

During the initial development stage, the robot returned successfully to the battery charger only six out of 10 times, Ariki recalled. It now returns to the battery recharger without fail.

The robot sends alarm signals to a security center when it detects flame within 10 meters and people within 8 meters. It also intimidates possible thieves with alarms, flashing lights and loud recordings of the words “thief” and “wait.”

“The robot can even work in dark rooms using ultrasound wave sensors and infrared rays,” Ariki said.

As a receptionist, it gives building visitors directions using voice guidance and a touch screen. It can also lead visitors to their destinations.

The robot’s appearance can be altered by adding optional body parts, including faces resembling animated characters.

Sohgo Security has sold units of the current model to the Hamamatsu Science Museum in Shizuoka Prefecture and a Yodobashi Camera Co. outlet in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture. It is priced at 9.5 million yen.

Shigeo Tosaka, a Sohgo Security spokesman, said the security robot attracted few buyers before communications functions were added.

To upgrade the robot, Sohgo Security is planning to equip it with a fire extinguisher and a paint-pellet gun to mark the clothes of intruders.

“However, we have no intention of developing dangerous tools that will cause physical harm, even to thieves” Tosaka said. “Robots must not have the capability of attacking human beings.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.