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Honda's shows off upgraded walking robot that understands gestures

Updated:
TOKYO (AP) _ Honda Motor Co. may have come up with the most attentive and perhaps honest car dealer ever in its child-size walking robot Asimo.

The four-foot-tall machine, shown to reporters Wednesday, already knew how to walk, climb stairs and recognize voices. An upgraded version now also understands human gestures and movement.

The robot is used as a promotional tool, reciting information about cars in showrooms and appearing in commercials and at Honda events. It rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in February.

The upgraded robot turns its bubble-shaped head to follow the moves of nearby people, giving it a communicative, ready-to-help appearance.

Asimo uses the visual information taken by a camera in its head to recognize 10 different preprogrammed faces and will call out that person's name.

``It won't follow strangers,'' says Honda chief engineer Yoshiaki Sakagami.

The company refuses to disclose the cost of the robot, which first went on sale two years ago.

Honda will offer the improved model for rental next year in Japan at $162,000 a year. It now rents to seven companies in Japan.

In a demonstration at Honda headquarters in Tokyo, the new robot understood where a person is pointing and moved in that direction.

``I will go where you instruct,'' it said in a childish electronic voice.

If a person circles an arm above the head, the robot understands it is being summoned. Wave, and it waves back.

Asimo _a name based on the Japanese word for ``legs'' _ can stop or walk backward to avoid an approaching person. And it connects to a wireless computer server to recite information about cars.
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