Honda recently unveiled the latest version of its Asimo robot in Tokyo.
The humanoid robot has been equipped with what Honda claims is the world’s first autonomous behavior control technology.
This lets the Asimo continue moving independently of an operator’s control.
The latest Asimo also has improved intelligence and the physical ability to adapt to situations, bringing Honda closer to fulfilling its long-held dream of putting the robot to use in a public space or an office with heavy human traffic.
The New Asimo’s Capabilities
Honda developed a new technology to evaluate inputs from multiple sensors so the new Asimo can respond to the movements of people and changes in its surroundings.
Through coordinating its visual and auditory sensors, the new Asimo can simultaneously recognize the voices and faces of multiple people speaking simultaneously.
The new Asimo can also now predict the direction a person will walk in within the near future based on information from space sensors. This lets it avoid collisions with people in motion.
“The design of [Asimo] is meant to make interacting with it easier,” Ken Goldberg, a professor at University of California at Berkeley and editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering, told TechNewsWorld.
Other Asimo II Goodies
Honda has strengthened Asimo’s legs, expanded the range of the robot’s leg movements, and come up with a new control technology that lets the robot change landing positions in mid-motion.
This lets Asimo walk, run forward or backward, jump and hop.
The new Asimo’s hands have a tactile sensor and a force sensor embedded in each finger and the palm of each hand so it can control each finger independently and perform subtle motions such as uncapping a bottle and pouring a drink.
“The biggest improvement to Asimo is in the hands,” UC Berkeley’s Goldberg said. “Asimo’s old hands were very crude, whereas the new hands … allow Asimo to [perform] tasks which require more dexterity.”
Helping Out at Fukushima
Honda had plans to send in Asimo to help clear up the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by a tsunami in March, polluting part of northeastern Japan. However, as it’s built now, the robot can’t maneuver in rubble and the radiation would damage it.
Instead, Honda used some of Asimo’s technology to develop a robotic arm to use at Fukushima. The arm can open and close valves at the power plant.
The Leader of the Pack
With the launch of the new Asimo, Honda has pulled ahead of its completion.
Sony, with its QRIO walking robot, is another contender.
Japan is pushing for the development of humanoid robots, according to a paper published by the Asian Technology Information Program.
The country launched a Humanoid Robotics Project in 1998, spearheaded by its Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
“Japan is very serious about its industrial race to create the first robotic servant, and the company that gets this right first will be a national hero,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Made in the U.S.A.
Although the United States is home to several robotics-focused startups, the country is generally lagging behind in the consumer robots field.
“We don’t have the industrial backing behind consumer units that the Japanese have, and this will likely give them the first robotic servant,” Enderle said.
Despite this, there’s still hope for American technology.
“Boston Dynamics recently put up another video of Petman, their humanoid robot,” UC Berkeley’s Goldberg said.
“This robot is just a prototype, but it can do much more dynamic motion than Asimo and has a more natural walk,” Goldberg added. “IT does not have hands yet, however.”
Nor does it have a head, but perhaps with proper funding, that might change.