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Hitachi’s robot-on-wheels avoids obstacles, responds to simple voice commands and reads the weather forecast. But don’t get too close just yet.

Reporters invited to a Tokyo demonstration Tuesday were instructed not to touch the two still-experimental robots for safety’s sake. They also were asked not to use a camera flash at certain angles or to cross a white line on the floor.

“This robot has just been developed,” explained Hitachi Ltd. official Kazuyoshi Miki. “It has barely completed first grade.”

The 70-kg, 130-cm-tall robot, called EMIEW, which stands for “excellent mobility and interactive existence as work mate,” is meant to be man’s best friend, working as office receptionist, document deliverer and giving directions in buildings, according to Hitachi.

The machine — with its thick barrel-like abdomen and bubbly head — was developed for display at the Aichi World Expo, which opens this month. But Hitachi officials said they hope to be renting or selling such robots within five or six years.

Unlike the trend in other countries, including military robots in the United States, Japan has been keen to develop human-looking service robots that can easily interact with people.

The two robots shown, nicknamed Pal and Chum, were equipped with digital cameras and radar sensors that allowed them to avoid obstacles in their way with a reaction time of 0.1 second.

They don’t have legs but zip around on two wheels at the speed of a slow jog. They appear a bit wobbly but manage to balance themselves and won’t fall, even if nudged gently.

One showed it can raise its right arm, or left arm, when commanded to do so. It also swiveled in a circle, gave directions to the bathroom and read the weather forecast.

“My name is Pal, which means friend,” the mouthless robot said in Japanese in a soft electronic voice.

Japan boasts many robots being developed by companies and universities, and other robots will also be shown at the Aichi expo.

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