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Sony steadies two-legged robot

The electronics giant updates the prototype humanoid robot, the SDR-4X II, to make it more agile, chatty and safe. Also, Aibo fetches software for snapping and e-mailing photos.

    The SDR-4X II, a prototype walking robot introduced last year, has had its sensors and software upgraded to make it less likely to topple over, a common problem with bipedal robots.

    Simulating human movement has been one of the biggest hurdles for robot makers like Sony. And unlike their human counterparts, bipedal machines find it extremely difficult to get back on their feet after a fall.

    But now, when it senses that it's about to fall, the SDR-4X II will attempt to correct itself. Failing that, it will attempt to curl up so as to protect its more delicate components from damage, said the report.

    The robot now also sports sensors and motors that can detect when something--a finger, perhaps--is trapped in its joints and stop it from compressing that object.

    "The key to success for entertainment robots lies in interaction with people. Safe design with respect to interaction with people is therefore vital," Sony said.

    The SDR-4X II will also feature an expanded vocabulary of 20,000 words, having just an implant of a dedicated CPU (central processing unit) for speech recognition and sentence construction.

    This enhancement enables the robot to respond to different situations and allows for more customized dialogue, Sony said.

    Other refinements to the SDR-4X II include location-sensing and navigation intelligence, as well as an entertainment boost that adds a repertoire of 10 songs, 1,000 different movements and 2,000 pre-configured interactive speech scenarios.

    Besides the human-like SDR-4X II, Sony has also developed software upgrades for Aibo, its four-legged robotic pet.

    A new application, Photo Mail, allows Aibo to remotely snap pictures and send them to users through e-mail. The commands for shooting pictures can be sent electronically, and Aibo will regularly access the mail server via Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) to check for these instructions, the Tokyo-based firm said. In addition, Sony said it is tinkering with a development environment to allow greater wireless control of the Aibo via PC applications.

    Since Aibo's debut in 1999, Sony has constantly added software enhancements to expand its consumer appeal. In October last year, the firm introduced programs that allow the mechanical pet to recognize its owner's name, voice and face, and to recharge itself.

    Japanese companies like Sony have been among the most active developers of robotics, backed by strong support from the government in the country. The Japanese government currently provides subsidies to encourage companies to develop robots that could carry out tasks such as nursing, entertainment, as well as search and rescue operations.

    Winston Chai reported from .