Robots of Japan: Honda Asimo

Robots of Japan: Honda Asimo

Probably, not too far in the future, we'll start to see robots everywhere—cleaning our houses, serving us food, running our errands, and maybe even providing a little social contact. Then, it won't be too long before the robots decide to take over and we have to battle to the death against a terrifying army of superhuman machines.

Asimo Photo by Ars Electronica

But until that dark future comes, it's exciting to watch the developments in robotics, especially in Japan, a country considered the world's leader in robot technology. I thought I'd do a series on the robots of Japan and it's only natural to start with the country's most sophisticated robot to date, Honda's Asimo.

Introducing Asimo

Asimo is the world's most humanoid robot. It's a sleek white robot that stands at 130 centimeters. The name is an acronym that stands for 'Advanced Step in Innovative MObility.' Pronounced 'a-she-mo,' it's also a play on words in Japanese—ashi (足 – foot) and mo (も – too, also).

According to Honda's website, Asimo is designed to help people, especially those without full mobility. What the friendly robot mostly does nowadays is attend robotics exhibitions and motor shows, wowing humans with all of the human-like things it can do and encouraging kids to study science. The things it can do include running, hopping, dance, shaking hands, serving drinks, waving, kicking soccer balls and speaking sign language.

Not automated — autonomous

The first Asimo was unveiled in 2000. Over the years, it has received a number of makeovers and improvements. Honda described the most recent version of the robot, unveiled in late 2011, as not 'automated' but 'autonomous.' While chilling to me, this statement is titillating to the world's robotics enthusiasts. Improvements include a more streamlined body, smoother movements, better voice and image recognition, faster sensory data analysis, and improvements to its long-term and short-term memory.

The most impressive improvement is its ability to predict human movements. If you and Asimo are about to collide, it'll stop and get out of your way. Asimo is the world's first robot with this technology, the point of which is to make a robot that's social and can function alongside human co-workers in offices and other public spaces.

Waiter of the future

Asimo's movements are very human-like and pretty impressive. It can walk over uneven surfaces and run smoothly at up to 9km per hour. Asimo has a multi-fingered hand that has sensors so that it can adjust pressure (I'll refrain from making any jokes about it strangling you). The highlight of its demonstrations is its ability to grab a water bottle, open the top and pour the drink into a cup. Check out this YouTube video showing Asimo doing just that.

One of the things that makes Asimo so much nicer than the Terminator or any other killer robots is that it's just so darn cute. As leery as I am of robot technology, after a few minutes of watching Asimo hop around on one leg, I wished I had one to serve me my next lemon sour.