Renewing a vow to make entertainment robots a viable business, Sony has taken the wraps off an improved version of its Aibo entertainment robot.

The new ERS-210 model, shipments of which will begin in December, is based on the appearance of a baby lion and features more movement and sensors than the first model, a greater range of emotions, limited voice recognition and the ability to take digital photographs.

The robots can now be given a name to which they will respond and, as they develop, will be able to understand up to about 50 words, according to Sony executives at a Tokyo press conference held to unveil the new product.

The voice recognition will tie in with another new feature - the digital camera. Users just need say "take a photo" and the robot will snap a picture of what it can see with a colour camera built into its nose.

Other significant differences lie in the way data is transferred from a personal computer to the robot. Sony has installed a Memory Stick slot and also equipped the device with a wireless LAN (local area network) adapter. In addition to simple data control, the latter also allows for real-time control of the Aibo through a PC.

The technical enhancements are all aimed at making Aibo a more intelligent robot and improving user interaction, but perhaps the most significant difference lies in the marketing strategy.

The company is keen to make entertainment robots into a real business and as such has formed an autonomous division, the "Entertainment Robot Company," to focus on both hardware and software development and lead the company's charge into this new market. Sony is hoping the much lower price point of around £900 will spur the take up.

It will also be available continuously, unlike last time, when Sony restricted the number of robots available or limited the time during which they could be ordered. Consumers can begin placing orders from 16 November with first shipments arriving in mid December.