Sony has taken the wraps off its latest prototype humanoid robot, the SDR-4X, and says that it could be on the market by the end of this year. Aibo may soon have a master it can really relate to.

With Tokyo's Robodex 2002 a week away, engineers from Sony's Digital Creators Laboratory there are showing off their latest prototype and the advances they have made in robotic technology.

The researchers face the problem of making the technology small enough to fit inside the SDR-4X, which is just 580mm tall — around a third of the size of Honda's well-known Asimo humanoid robot — and weighs 6.5kg.

Powered by a pair of Risc (reduced instruction set computer) processors the SDR-4X is capable of 38 separate degrees of movement, a significant jump from the 24 of the previous version.

Among the many improvements in the new version, two areas are worthy of note: a real-time adaptive motion control system and richer communication technology including facial recognition and complex speech recognition.

The motion control system enables SDR-4X to go places and do things its predecessor couldn't, such as balance on a moving platform and walk on carpet or Japanese tatami mat floors.

While they may not seem difficult, for a robot they are major tasks, said Yoshihiro Kuroki, a senior manager at the Digital Creators Laboratory and the original brains behind the SDR project.

Sony needs to work on increasing reliability of the hardware and software but, should all go according to plan, the first commercial version of the SDR could be on the market before the end of the year.

Sony wouldn't comment on the price, but it is expected initially to be considerably more than the company's Aibo robots.

For more detail on the SDR and its robot friends running amok at Robodex see News in the June issue of PC Advisor, out 25 April 2002.