Sony updates its humanoid robot

Sony Corp. unveiled a new version of its SDR (Sony Dream Robot) humanoid robot on Wednesday that, it said, packs major increases in abilities and intelligence.

Those improvements only become obvious after a demonstration, because the SDR-4X II looks almost identical to the first generation SDR-4X robot that the company introduced one year ago. Like that version and the SDR-3 robot that came before it, it was introduced by Sony to coincide with the start of Robodex, an exhibition of entertainment and humanoid robots that is now in its third year and begins on Thursday in Yokohama, Japan.

Major changes in the SDR-4X II have been made in four areas:

The first is that of motion control and, in particular, improvements to the robot's sensory functions so that it can avoid falling down. The previous version of the robot introduced advanced motion control that allowed it to, for example, walk from one type of floor surface to another without tripping, or balance on a gently rocking platform, and the new version improves on this. Also, if it can't avoid falling over, it will take a protective stance to minimize damage to itself.

Engineers have added an extra RISC (reduced instruction set computer) microprocessor ( bringing the total count to three) to the SDR-4X II in order to handle speech synthesis and speech recognition. Previously, this required the power of an external PC, but now the robot can handle a vocabulary of approximately 20,000 words. It can also recognize faces and match them with previous dialog to give the illusion of higher intelligience. SDR-4X II Improvements have also been made in safety and identification. The SDR 4X will now reduce motor and actuator power if objects get trapped within a moving part, and software has been added that allows the SDR to learn and recognize certain locations and adjust its movement to match its surroundings.

When the company announced the first version of the SDR in early 2002 it said the device could be on sale by the end of that year, should research and development flow smoothly. It never reached the market and now Sony says it has no definite plans to put it on sale.

"Development is going well but the artificial intelligence is difficult," said Shinji Obana, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo.

"The whole features of a humanoid entertainment robot are also yet to be decided," he said. "There have been some discussions in the company but we do not have any definite sales plan."

For now, the closest that members of the public can get to the SDR-4X is at Robodex. The exhibition opens on Thursday and runs until Sunday and more information can be found on the web at http://www.robodex.org .

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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