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Goodbye vacuum, hello robot!

From CNN Correspondent Kristie Lu Stout

Hitachi says their vacuum-cleaner robot can work for about 50 minutes with built-in rechargeable battery.
Hitachi says their vacuum-cleaner robot can work for about 50 minutes with built-in rechargeable battery.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- It looks like a giant hockey puck and hums like a hot rod.

The Trailobite is not a toy but a robotic vacuum cleaner. It can clean a room on its own, using sound waves to feel its way around.

"It does it when you are not there," Frederik Ramen, president of Electrolux (Asia) said.

"You can basically turn it on when you leave for the office and when you come home it's clean and fixed."

It's like something straight out of futuristic cartoons, but the stuff of sci-fi fantasy is happening now as more and more people turn to robots to do the chores.

"At last it seems domestic robots are starting to take off, and we are now seeing signs of solid growth in this area," said Jan Karlsson from U.N. Economic Commission for Europe.

According to a new U.N. survey, sales of "domestic robots" in 2002 rose to 33,000 units. That's up from 20,000 the year before.

Sales are taking off for robots that wash windows, scan for intruders and sweep the floor.

The U.N. study says domestic robot sales are expected to soar over the next three years and predicts 400,000 vacuum robots will be in service by 2006 -- despite their high price tags.

"But prices are coming down, which means there are solid signs they will become mass market," Karlsson said.

The Trailobite retails at around $2,000. Electrolux won't reveal any plans to slash the price. Ramen says it's not built to save money but to save time.

"Because time is getting very, very scarce for all of us," he said.

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