Toyota Motor today unveiled a robot that can play the violin as part of its efforts to develop futuristic machines capable of assisting humans in Japan's greying society.

SGE.HIZ63.061207141639.photo02.photo.jpgThe 1.5-metre-tall (five-foot), two-legged robot wowed onlookers with a faultless rendition of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. With 17 joints in its hands and arms, the robot has human-like dexterity that could be applied to helping people in the home or in nursing and medical care, the carmaker said.

Toyota, which already uses industrial robots extensively in its car plants, said it aims to put robots capable of assisting humans into use by the early 2010s.

The new robots come three years after Toyota unveiled a trumpet-playing robot -- its first humanoid machine -- in a bid to catch up with robot technology frontrunners such as Honda Motor Co. and Sony Corp. Makers of robots see big potential for their use in Japan, where the number of elderly people is rapidly growing, causing labour shortages in a country that strictly controls immigration. Japanese are famed for their longevity of life, with more than 30,000 people aged at least 100 years old, a trend attributed to a healthy cuisine and active lifestyle. But the ability to live longer is also presenting a headache as the country has one of the lowest birthrates. Japan's most famous robot is arguably Asimo, an astronaut-looking humanoid developed by Honda which has been hired out as an office servant and has even popped up to offer toasts at Japanese diplomatic functions.

It aims to start trials putting some, including the mobility robot, into practical use in the second half of next year. Further work is also planned to improve the hand and arm flexibility of the violin-playing robot so it can use general purpose tools. Carmakers are also looking to use robot technology to develop more sophisticated cars. "Technologies used to enrich the abilities of robots can also be used to improve the functionality of automobiles," said Watanabe.