Have A Look At How Far Honda's ASIMO Robot Has Come
More than a decade ago, Honda unveiled ASIMO, one of the world's first fully-functional (and mobile) humanoid robots. Though revolutionary at the time, looking back one can't help but note how stiff and artificial its movement seems. Robotics technology has moved far beyond the components of the original ASIMO; although the smiling robot will always have a special place in our hearts, it's been left behind by the march of technology.
Or has it?
Turns out, Honda's been hard at work keeping its remarkable robot up to date. While its predecessors could only lumber across the stage, the current model is smaller - and significantly more limber. Standing at four feet tall and weighing only 115 pounds, ASIMO can now climb up and down stairs with ease, rocket forward at a brisk run, dance about the stage, kick a ball, and jump up and down as though it's throwing a tantrum. Its hands - outfitted with fully-functional fingers - now have force feedback sensors which allow it to perform such complex tasks as pouring orange juice from a container into a cup.
Now, ASIMO's not quite perfect at what it does. The way it walks still looks rather awkward, to say nothing of how it moves when it's jumping or walking down a flight of stairs; had Honda not designed ASIMO with such a friendly appearance, it might actually look a little unnerving. As it is, it just looks kind of...silly.
Of course, the fact that it can do any of these things at all is positively remarkable. See, humanoid robots still have a long way to go before they can even remotely compete with humans where manual dexterity is concerned. Not only do they not have nerve endings (something which is at least partially remedied by ASIMO's force feedback sensors), the materials from which they're constructed generally aren't as nimble as flesh and blood.
ASIMO has a great deal more autonomy than its predecessors, with the ability to carry out pre-programmed tasks on its own terms and a built-in battery with an average lifespan of around forty minutes. While that's certainly enough for robotics show demonstrations and the like, I wouldn't expect to see ASIMO leave the lab anytime soon. No matter how freely it can move, it's not ready for the consumer market until it can last a little longer.
The robot's movement isn't the only thing Honda's been hard at work improving. Since the release of the original robot, ASIMO's AI has evolved significantly. It's capable of recognizing faces and vocal commands, and can understand a wide range of different phrases, It's able to communicate in Japanese sign language, and is in the process of learning American sign language. The next step is to make it better at reading non-verbal communication, a task that researchers hope to accomplish by placing ASIMO in a number of real-world scenarios.
Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), ASIMO has been programmed with an array of human-like gestures, such as pausing to look at the people around it before it completes a task. That may well be the most important factor in helping ASIMO avoid the Uncanny Valley, as it makes people interacting with the robot considerably friendlier towards it.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, ASIMO might become a steadfast companion to families all across the country. For now, one can't help but marvel at how far it's come since clomping across the stage fourteen years ago - even if all that does is underscore how far it has yet to go. After all, even in the face of all its quirks, ASIMO feels remarkably...human.
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