A unit of Japanese telco NTT and toy maker Takara have developed a robot-like device that can be used as a remote control even while its owners are away from home.

The device will make it possible to control home appliances such as VCRs remotely via the internet using mobile phones.

The 'Flets Robot' device is connected to a PC and thus to the internet, in Japan networked via NTT's internet services. Owners can instruct the robot to send infrared signals to switch on and off home appliances such as VCRs, TV sets and air conditioners.

The device is shaped like a robot but cannot move by itself. Before leaving the house, users have to make sure that the robot's hand, which is where the infrared signals come from, is pointing towards the home appliance they want to control. This does seem to detract from its independence.

Another feature is an eye that functions as a digital still camera with a 0.1 megapixel resolution, so people could check the inside of their houses with snapshots that can be sent back as an attached file via email.

But don't expect to see the robot over here any time soon. Takara will exhibit the device at World PC Expo 2001 at Makuhari Messe in Japan, starting 11 September. The toy maker has been working on projects to develop robot-related entertainment toys since March this year. The Flets Robot will be a part of its line-up.

Its other products from these projects include 'aquaroid' series, fish-like and jellyfish-like robots that move by solar power in a fish tank, and Bowlingual that allows dog owners to communicate with their dogs.