Sony unveils prototype humanoid robot

The SDR-3 (Sony Dream Robot 3), a technical prototype of a humanoid robot packed full of Sony's most advanced robotic technology, includes two important breakthroughs, said Toshitada Doi, a corporate executive vice president at Sony, and head of the company's Digital Creatures Laboratory.

The first is the development of a small-sized actuator that combines a motor, gearbox and associated circuitry into a small package. Such actuators are used in the joints on the robot's "body" and size is a key factor for entertainment robots, which are much smaller than commercial robots used in industry. The SDR-3 has three types of actuators that differ by the torque, or turning power, each one can provide.

The second development highlighted by Doi was the robot's synchronised body movement. The SDR-3 can move the upper half of its body to counteract the movement generated by the lower half and so maintain balance. Dual RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors continuously crunch data from sensors mounted throughout the robot to ensure it stays balanced. They are powerful enough to enable a walking speed of 15 metres per minute.

Sony has also built basic voice recognition and image recognition into the unit, the latter via a colour 180,000-pixel resolution CCD (charge coupled device) pickup similar to those used in digital still cameras. At the demonstration, Doi showed how the robot could distinguish between two balls of different colors and kick the selected one into a goal.

The SDR-3 won't be on the market anytime soon however. In fact, Sony has no plans to commercialise it as a single product. Rather, it represents some of the latest technology developed by Sony and is likely to make its way into future commercial products over the coming years, said Sony.

The company's research into robots is being driven by a belief that robots have a place in the home as entertainment products.

Sony took its first steps towards proving this theory in 1999 when it launched the Aibo dog-like entertainment robot in 1999. The company managed to sell 150,000 of the first generation Aibo despite a hefty 250,000 yen (about $4000) price tag and recently launched a second generation Aibo, this time based on a baby lion but retaining many of the same looks as the original product.

At the time Doi said: "The 1990s was the era of the PC and the Internet. The first decade of the 21st century will be dominated by robots."

The SDR-3 robot will be on display at the Robodex exhibition in Japan from this Thursday. The event, which is being billed as the first ever expo for entertainment and companion robots, will showcase some of the latest breakthroughs in the field including an updated version of Honda Motor's humanoid robot. The car-maker's robot technology development program is aimed at improving its technology for factory automation rather than entertainment.

More information about Robodex, which runs from Thursday until Sunday this week in Yokohama, can be found online at http://www.robodex.org/.

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