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Tomy to sell world's smallest humanoid robot

i-Sobot takes over where Sony Aibo left off

Toy robots have been in the dog house since Sony killed the Aibo, but another Japanese company, Tomy, hopes to change all that. In October it will start selling what it says is the world's smallest humanoid robot.

Called the i-Sobot, it stands 16.5cm tall, and has a bulky body that's 10cm wide and 6.7cm deep. Inside are 17 little motors, known as servos, 19 chips and a gyro that work together to let the robot to perform over 200 pre-programmed actions, said Yoshiro Takagi, manager of Tomy's business development team, at a news conference in Tokyo Friday.

The actions include push-ups, somersaults, dancing, and imitations of animals various animal imitations, and are sent to the robot via remote control. The i-Sobot can also say several phrases and recognise 10 voice commands.

That's nowhere near as complicated as Sony's Aibo, which had a more complex brain and even a rudimentary learning ability, but the i-Sobot is much cheaper. It will cost ¥29,800 in Japan and between $350 and $375 (£175 and £190) in the US. The Japanese version will be white and blue, and the overseas version, which will speak only in English, will be black.

The products will be available in Japan and the US in October, and in Europe in early 2008.

The robot runs on 3 AA-size batteries, and Tomy will bundle Sanyo's Eneloop rechargeable batteries and a charger with the device. The Eneloop can hold a charge longer other rechargeable batteries and power the i-Sobot for an hour, Tomy said.

The robot was developed to help Tomy keep its foothold in a fast changing toy market.

"Kids used to play with toys, but now they have a wider variety of things to choose from and do not use toys as they did in the past," Takagi said. The robot was developed to reach these type of children, but also adults.

Tomy hopes to sell 300,000 of the robots worldwide during its first year. Other, similar products could follow if i-Sobot is successful, Takagi said.

"We'd like to continue development and make this a line [of products]," he said.

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