GADGETS

Sunday, December 25, 2005

YOKOHAMA, Japan — A child-size robot from Honda and a team of diminutive dancing robots from Sony wowed a preview audience at the Robodex2000 show this past week.

Standing four feet tall and weighing 95 pounds, Honda's Asimo walked onto the stage like a small child, with a fast, smooth gait that amazed the human observers. Not to be outdone, one of Sony's Aibo robots showed its smarts by finding, and then netting, a soccer ball of a certain color.

"The early decades of the 21st century will be the era of the robot," declared Toshi T. Doi, president of Sony's Digital Creatures Laboratory. "We expect that the robot industry will eventually grow larger than the PC industry."

Sony's soccer-playing Aibo 'bot has a camera, mikes, and smarts.

The brains behind Honda's Asimo is a PowerPC processor. The 'bot incorporates a total of 26 joints: two in the head, five in each arm, one per hand and six in each leg. At the demonstration here, Asimo was put through its paces from a workstation and also by a remote controller.

Honda researchers have developed several generations of humanoid robots over the past 14 years. Asimo — the name stands for "Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility" — is based on technologies incorporated in Honda's 1997 model, the P3 prototype, which was 64 inches tall and weighed a hefty 286 pounds.

Honda engineers said they decided to downsize Asimo to 48 inches, a height perceived as "a people-friendly size." (Indeed, it might be intimidating to have a robot in the house as large as oneself.) At 4 feet, Asimo is able to reach switches and doorknobs, and can perform tasks at tables and benches.

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