Quick Hits

Forget bulky home security systems with wailing alarms. Fujitsu Ltd. has developed a “home robot” that acts as a mobile home security system and allows users to check on their homes whenever they wish. The Maron-1 weighs 5.5 kilograms, measures 36 centimetres tall and comes with onboard cameras that let homeowners survey the house via mobile phones. A built-in intruder detection system sounds an alarm if a burglar breaks in while the homeowner is away. Maron-1 also comes with some housekeeping features, which enable the robot to operate home appliances with an infrared remote-control interface that can switch on the TV or program your VCR. The device sells for US$2,500. For details, visit www.fujitsu.com.

Visually impaired get braille-based PDA

A Dutch company, AlvaBV, has unveiled a new handheld device for the visually impaired. Called the Mobile Phone Organizer (MPO) 5500, the cell phone/PDA offers all the key features of a regular cell phone and allows users to take down notes, store contact information and use calendar and calculator functions. The MPO’s interface is made up of an eight-button braille keyboard for inputting numbers and outgoing messages along with a 15 centimetre-long strip of moving dots that allows users to receive and read incoming messages in braille. The device also comes with a built-in speaker, microphone and voice synthesizer. Developed by Alva, a manufacturer of high-tech gear for the visually impaired, the MPO is scheduled for release in Europe this spring. It could arrive in North America as early as the fall. For details, visit www.alva-bv.nl.

Families get tech help in the kitchen

A new test project by a group of companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., has unveiled a prototype of a Web-connected kitchen that lets people control their appliances remotely. The project will consist of an Internet-enabled Polara refrigerated range from Whirlpool, a “flipscreen entertainment centre” from Icebox, integration services from IBM, a printer from HP, customer services from Sears Roebuck, and Internet grocery services from Peapod. The connected kitchen allows users to program the oven to refrigerate and then cook a meal so that it’s ready at dinner time. If users are running late, they can adjust cooking times via an Internet or cell phone connection. There is no word when the connected kitchen will be available for mainstream use.