Toyota's violin-playing robot
Cars aren't enough for Toyota -- just like Honda, they're making robots. Both Honda and Toyota, based in Japan, are trying to address the concerns of the aging populace and relatively low birthrates that will result in lots of elderly needing care, and not enough people to provide it. Both companies are focusing on development of humanoid robots with a lot of dexterity, which Toyota consistently demonstrates by having the robots play musical instruments.
The newest addition to Toyota's line of Partner Robots is a violin-playing bot that demonstrates new developments in manipulation and dexterity, which are essentially to working with small objects in a standard human environment. Many of the partner robots can walk, though one is wheeled, and some can carry on simple conversations. Eventually the goal is to have these piloted in nursing homes and hospitals with the elderly to see how they do, and Toyota says they want to have them in homes in 2010.
How realistic is that? The Partner robots (and Asimo) are both still largely tele-operated and incredibly expensive. So much work goes into recreating human balance, manipulation, size, shape, and aesthetics that getting a product to market is delayed perhaps much further than a robot less humanoid and more specialized -- is that the right path to be taking? Will the humanoid form make adoption easier or more difficult?
Here's a video with a good closeup of the robotic hand on the violin. It is definitely impressive. Incidentally, it may not be as much of a robot, but I have to say also that the way the wheelchair deals with the bump in the road is amazing as well.