Honda shows smarter robot, helps in nuclear crisis (Update, w/ video)

November 8, 2011 By YURI KAGEYAMA , AP Business Writer
Honda Motor Co.'s revamped human-shaped robot "Asimo" kicks a soccer ball during a news conference at the Japanese automaker's research facility in Wako, near Tokyo, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. Asimo can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot, pour a drink and even almost "think" on its own. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

Honda's human-shaped robot can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot and pour a drink. Some of its technology may even be used to help out with clean-up operations at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Honda's demonstration of the revamped "Asimo" on Tuesday at its Tokyo suburban research facility was not only to prove that the bubble-headed childlike machine was more limber and a bit smarter.

It was a way to try to answer some critics that Asimo, first shown in 2000, had been of little practical use so far, proving to be nothing more than a glorified toy and cute showcase for the Co. brand.

Honda President Takanobu Ito told reporters some of Asimo's technology was used to develop a in just six months with the intention of helping with the in northeastern Japan.

The can open and close valves at Fukushima Dai-ichi , which went into meltdown after the March tsunami, according to Honda. The automaker is working with the utility behind the problem plant, Power Co., to try to meet demands to bring the plant under control.

Honda shows smarter robot, helps in nuclear crisis

Ito acknowledged that the first idea was to send in Asimo to help out, but that was not possible because the robot cannot maneuver in rubble, and its delicate computer parts would malfunction in radiation.

But in Tuesday's demonstration, Asimo was able to walk without falling over 2 centimeter (0.8 inch) padded bumps on the floor.

It can also now jog faster than it did in 2005, at 9 kilometers per hour (5.6 mph), instead of the earlier 6 kph (3.7 mph), pushing better with its toes so its run was smoother and not as jerky.

Honda shows smarter robot, helps in nuclear crisis

Asimo was also able to distinguish the voices of three people spoken at once, using and analyzing sound, to figure out that one woman wanted hot coffee, another orange juice, and still another milk tea.

The new Asimo got improved hands as well, allowing individual movement of each finger, so it could do sign language.

"My name is Asimo," it said, making the signs of its words with stubby fingers.

It also opened a thermos bottle and gracefully poured juice into a paper cup.

Ito said Asimo had developed autonomous artificial intelligence so that it could potentially maneuver itself through crowds of people, without remote control or stopping each time to check on its programming.

But he acknowledged that making robotics into a practical business will take more time, meaning Asimo wasn't about to show up in any home soon.

"Maybe at the start this was a dream of engineers to make a machine that was close to a human being, like Astro Boy," he said. "We think Asimo is good."

Other manufacturers are also developing robots, eager to cash in on the expected needs of Japan's rapidly aging population.

Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's top automaker which makes the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models, is among those to have jumped on the robotics bandwagon.

In the past, it has shown robots that can play the violin and talk like receptionists. Last week, it showed a computerized device that latches on to the body to help old or sick people walk and keep balance.

Honda, which makes the Odyssey minivan and Accord sedan, has developed similar brace-like gadgets to help people get about.

Neither the Toyota nor Honda product is on sale yet.

Still, experts say such research is important to keep up.

"Maybe it can't be put to use right away, but it is definitely a technology that we should keep working on to advance," Hiroshi Kobayashi, a mechanical engineering professor at Tokyo University of Science, said of the new .

"It is common for what we achieve in research to turn out later to lead to many products," said Kobayashi, who has developed experimental robots.

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Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2011
"Asimo can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot, pour a drink and even almost "think" on its own."

Sounds like every drunken frat boy I ever met.

Seriously, though, this thing is almost to the point where it can be made really useful.
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 08, 2011
More and more technological advances and scientific discoveries are taking place outside of the United States. Could the fact that the average American watches 5 hours of non-educational TV per day have anything to do with that?
No answer. Everyone is watching The Kardashians here in the US while Indian, Chinese and Korean kids are doing multi-variable calculus so they're prepared for high school.
not rated yet Nov 08, 2011
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2011
Link to video

Thanks for the link. Impressive video.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2011
This Asimo guy can only get better. I hope it also becomes unemployed at some point in order to truly emulate human beings.
not rated yet Nov 09, 2011
I note that Asmio's new feet are smaller, and the device has improved balance and coordination.

Now, can it climb stairs without knowing the pitch and step size?

1 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2011
Haven't seen much video and was wondering if it(asimo) can take a decent nudge like bigdog/alphadog? Admittedly is a somewhat apples and oranges comparison, but would be impressive to see a 2 legged robo thingy resist interference like that semi epileptic quadruped...
1 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2011
This robot is impressive, but if your a robot that moves with more of a human form, check out the petman system from Boston Dynamics.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2011
This robot is impressive, but if your a robot that moves with more of a human form, check out the petman system from Boston Dynamics.

There's been quite a bit about it on PhysOrg. It might move with slightly more human gait, but it's a whole lot creepier looking. Obviously, different design goals in mind.

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