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From our robotics correspondent...

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Updated Robotics

Sony will next month introduce a second humanoid alternative to its popular Aibo 'entertainment' robot. The SDR-4X II improves on the previous model, introduced last year, by offering better movement, safety and conversational capabilities. So it is better able to recover from motion that might or already has upset its balance, and if it falls it can adopt a pose that minimises the risk of damage. It has a new processor that can recognise continuous speech and is backed by a 20,000-word vocabulary.

The robot is just over half a metre tall and weighs 7kg. It is based on an unnamed 64-bit Risc processor and contains 64MB of memory. It features PC Card and Memory Stick slots, and runs Sony's Aperios operating system.

Toshiba will introduce a prototype personal robot product, ApriAlpha, next month too. Dubbed by Toshiba a "robot information home appliance", the small, spherical (35cm diameter) droid has a built-in camera and facial recognition software that allows it to recognise 100 faces. It also has speech recognition and synthesis built in.

Toshiba has equipped the 9.5kg ApriAlpha with its own 802.11b, Bluetooth and IR networking capabilities to allow it to communicate with similarly enabled household appliances.

ApriAlpha's functionality is intended to be extensible, through Toshiba's Open Robot Controller Architecture (ORCA). ORCA provides an abstraction layer between kinematic control, communication, image processing, speech processing and sensor input, and the processor and OS, the better to allow, say, one speech processing system to be implemented on different robot hardware aimed at different roles.

Servers

Linux hardware specialist Penguin Computing has launched a 4U server equipped with a 16-drive ATA/133 disk sub-system. The Relion 430 is based on dual Intel Xeon processors - from 2.0 to 2.8GHz - and Intel's E7575 chipset. Up to 4GB of DDR memory is supported. The drive sub-system can take units of 40GB to 200GB for a maximum capacity of 3.2TB. The unit incorporates 3ware IDE RAID controllers for extra data security. Individual drives are easily accessible, says Penguin, for cold swaps.

Connectivity is provided by a single Gigabit Ethernet port, but Penguin notes that the mobo's four PCI slots - one 133MHz PCI-X, two 100MHz 64-bit PCI and a 32-bit PCI - provide plenty of scope for the addition of extra ports. There's an AGP 8x slot for users who want to connect a monitor to the Relion.

Prices depend on configuration but start off at around $3582 for a uni-processor, diskless machine.

Printers

Dell's entry into the printer market with own-brand products kicked off today with the launch of four models.

The Dell Personal All-in-One A940 puts colour printing, scanning and copying into a single $139 unit. It prints at 4800x1200dpi, but scans at 600x2400dpi. Colour printing averages at 12ppm; monochrome at 17ppm.

The Dell Personal Laser Printer P1500 is a 600dpi, 19ppm machine for home and office. It retails for $289. For networked organisations, the Dell Workgroup Laser Printers S2500 and S2500n provide 600dpi, 22ppm printing for $499 and $839, respectively. The S2500n includes a built-in Ethernet port. All the others sport USB and parallel ports.

And following on from Dell's launch of its PC recycling programme last week, the company said it will cart off customers' old printers when they buy a new Dell job. Each Dell printer comes with a postage-paid label - just attach it to the printer's box and put your old printer inside. The PC recycling scheme costs users $15 (see Dell revamps PC recycling scheme). ®

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