ASIMO, Japan’s celebrity robot which has danced and dined with dignitaries, got a smarter, faster and more sociable cousin which can adapt to people’s movements and give and receive objects. Cool photos.

ASIMO, unveiled in 2000 as the world’s first two-legged walking robot, has been upgraded and will now be able to spin in the air, bend or twist its torso and watch out for obstacles as it walks.

Its creator Honda Motor boasted that the new ASIMO was showing a “new level of mobility” and will be able “to act nimbly in real-world environments.”

The robot, which resembles a child in an astronaut suit, will for the first time be able to “run” — meaning it will momentarily be in the air rather than picking up its feet one by one like the original ASIMO.

The humanoid will run at three kilometers (1.86 miles) per hour and walk at 2.5 kilometers per hour, compared with the previous model’s speed of 1.6 kilometers an hour.

“When he runs, though slowly, both of his legs leave the ground” for 0.05 seconds, said Kazuhiro Suda, Honda spokesman.

The original ASIMO can climb stairs and understand voices.

Honda cloned some 40 units of the existing model, with several units stationed in the United States, Britain and Thailand for diplomatic missions.

The humanoid robot has had a busy social calendar, rubbing shoulders with business leaders and foreign dignitaries as a symbol of Japanese technological wizardry.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took ASIMO along last year for a visit to the Czech Republic — where the word “robot” was coined by playwright Karel Capek in 1921 — and ASIMO raised his glass for a toast at a state dinner.

As recently as last month, ASIMO danced and offered greetings in Danish for a visit to Japan by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

He appeared in Japanese concerts of Korean pop singer BoA earlier this year and was one of main guests at the Tokyo Stock Exchange at the final day of trading last year.

The new ASIMO can be even more sociable by detecting people’s movements through its sensors.

The new model can move in sync with people, give or receive objects, shake hands in concert with a person’s movement and step forward or backward in response to the direction its hand is pulled or pushed, Honda said.

The new robot can automatically detect obstacles and change its path by comparing input maps with material it gleans from its ground sensor.

The new ASIMO stands 130 centimeters (51 inches) tall and weighs 54 kilograms (119 pounds), growing a bit from its predecessor which stood 120 centimers and weighed 52 kilograms.

The improved ASIMO also comes with more stamina, with battery power of one hour — double that of its previous version.

While ASIMO has largely been used for show, experts say robots are poised to be put to more work in households.

About 1.3 million personal or domestic service robots were in use at the end of 2003, but the number will surge to 6.7 million by 2007, a UN study said in October.

Toyota has said it will showcase robots when the World Expo is held in Japan next year, with robot musicians set to perform everything from brass big-band numbers to rap music at its pavilion.

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