Standing On Its Own Two Feet

Since its introduction in May 1999, Sony Corp.’s dog-like Aibo robot has enjoyed a steady increase in interest from technology enthusiasts and hobbyists around the world. With more practical technology applications in mind for the future, Sony’s latest entertainment robot development efforts have resulted in an evolutionary jump from four legs to two legs.

The SDR-3 (Sony Dream Robot 3), a technical prototype of a humanoid robot packed full of Sony’s most advanced robotic technology, includes two important breakthroughs, says Toshitada Doi, corporate executive vice-president at Sony and head of the company’s Digital Creatures Laboratory.

The first is the development of a small-sized actuator that combines a motor, gearbox and associated circuitry into a small package. Such actuators are used in the joints on the robot’s “body” and size is a key factor for entertainment robots, which are much smaller than commercial robots used in industry. The SDR-3 has three types of actuators that differ by the torque, or turning power, each one can provide.

The second development highlighted by Doi is the robot’s synchronized body movement. The SDR-3 can move the upper half of its body to counteract the movement generated by the lower half and so maintain balance. Dual RISC processors continuously crunch data from sensors mounted throughout the robot to ensure it stays balanced. They are powerful enough to enable a walking speed of 15 metres per minute.

Sony has also built basic voice recognition and image recognition into the unit, the latter via a colour 180,000-pixel resolution CCD (charge coupled device) pick-up similar to those used in digital still cameras. At a recent demonstration, Doi showed how the robot could distinguish between two balls of different colours and kick the selected one into a goal.

The SDR-3 won’t be on the market any time soon, however. In fact, Sony has no plans to commercialize it as a single product. Rather, it represents some of the latest technology developed by Sony and is likely to make its way into future commercial products over the coming years.

The SDR-3 robot was on display at the Robodex exhibition in Japan last month. The event, which was billed as the first ever expo for entertainment and companion robots, showcased some of the latest breakthroughs in the field including an updated version of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s humanoid robot. The automaker’s robot technology development program is aimed at improving its technology for factory automation rather than entertainment.