By Steve Morris, 9 Oct 2012
Asimo is a humanoid robot developed by Honda. The team that created Asimo refer to it as an "autonomous machine" meaning that it has a decision-making capability and can control its own behaviour within certain parameters.
Asimo is the most famous of all robots. Unlike the faceless machines that work every day in factories, assembling cars and other products, four-foot-something Asimo is a bourgeoisie among robots, with no work to do other than to simply be a robot. Cute, in a sinister, creepy kind of way, Asimo is humanoid and looks like it might actually be a child dressed up as a robot wearing a mysterious backpack.
Asimo has a number of skills that set it apart from most robots:
- A high-level postural balancing which enables it to move like a human, even to the extent of walking up stairs and running.
- External sensors that allow it to form a mental map of its surroundings and to detect movements of people and objects nearby.
- The ability to behave autonomously without being controlled by an operator.
It's precisely these skills that make Asimo so creepy. It's like a human who is fully awake and mobile but with no conscious thoughts in their head. Imagine an animated corpse in a white plastic jumpsuit and you have Asimo.
Honda's stated intention is to build a robot that could operate in a human environment like the home. It could perform useful household chores and take instructions from its human masters. This sounds very much like the kind of robot Isaac Asimov envisaged in his book I, Robot.
Putting dystopian thoughts aside for a moment, let's take a look at what makes Asimo so special:
- Ability to run at speeds up to 9 km per hour.
- A total of 57 degrees of freedom.
- Sensors that mimic the visual, auditory, and tactile senses of a human being.
- Object recognition.
- Face and voice recognition.
- Making predictions of people's movements in order to avoid collisions.
- Tactile and force sensors imbedded on the palm and in each finger of the hand.
These abilities make it possible for Asimo to begin to accomplish its mission of helping people. For example, Asimo can pick up a glass bottle and twist off the cap, or hold a paper cup whilst pouring liquid into it. These are the kinds of tasks even I might struggle with on a bad day. Maybe Asimo is nearly ready to become a handy helper around the home.
When you realise that the Asimo project was started in 2002, you can see just how rapid its development has been. Another decade and Asimo could become a genuinely useful assistant. That raises all kinds of ethical and safety concerns, although with an estimated price tag of around $1,000,000, you can bet that we won't see many Asimos around town for quite a while yet.
Like many of the technologies discussed in S21's Awesome pages, robotic helpers like Asimo belong in the "not quite ready yet, hang on a minute" category. I can't help feeling that domestic robots are further away than most of the technologies reviewed here. They might not even help that much if they do eventually arrive. After all, do we honestly need someone to fetch us a drink or to answer the doorbell? I guess the answer to that can be found in the popularity of butlers amongst the aristocracy. OK, then. Sign me up. I'll have two Asimos please, ASAP.
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Comment by Sharpen from India on 22nd May 2013
Would like asimo to sweep floors , swab the floors with stand up steam mops ,iron clothes with a steam iron , steam clean washrooms and windows. I seem to think all these are possible with asimos present capabilities. The only thing important is to bring the price down.