Japan's robot expo opens

It's Robodex time in Japan again and that means a gamut of new robots including both improved and upgraded models and brand new machines, many from companies presenting their first work in the fast-growing field of robotics.

Among the companies demonstrating new robots are Toshiba Corp., which is showing the ApriAlpha 1, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which is demonstrating its Wakamaru humanoid robot. Humanoid robots make up a large proportion of the robots on display at this year's show.

Some robots, familiar to visitors to previous exhibitions, are back in upgraded versions. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. unveiled Wednesday a slightly modified version of its Asimo that can walk at about twice the pace of its predecessor while Sony Corp. took the wraps off the latest version of its SDR-4X, which has had major increases in abilities and intelligence, according to the company. Asimo The Sony robot isn't on sale yet but is intended to be an entertainment device much like the company's Aibo robot dogs. Honda is developing Asimo for potential use as a home help.

Other companies are also developing robots that are intended to help people.

Tmsuk Inc.'s Banryu will shortly go on sale and is intended to act as the eyes and ears of someone while they are, for example, away from home. To demonstrate its potential the company plans to send it CD shopping in central Tokyo over the next two days while controlling it from the Robodex hall in Yokohama.

It's not all commercial robots. Several Japanese universities that lead in robot research are also at the fair and will be showing their latest research and development efforts. Unlike the work being done by major companies, the university research is usually concentrated on a narrow area of robotics, such as developing ways to make human-robot interaction easier, and the prototypes on display are less polished.

The show, which is being held for the third time, is expected to draw around 70,000 people over its four-day run at the Pacifico Yokohama center. Organizers say there will be 79 different robots on display from 35 groups and organizations. More information can be found on the web at http://www.robodex.org.

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Martyn Williams

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