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Humanoids Are Faster and More Agile than Ever (March 1, 2006)

ASIMO serving drinks (Honda Motor Co.)
Japanese firms continue to set the pace in the development of multifunctional, interactive robots. The work to improve ASIMO, the world's most advanced autonomous bipedal humanoid robot, continues at Honda Motor Co. The newest model, released in December 2005, boasts a high level of communication skills and suggests that it may not be long before there are real robots similar to fictional robot heroes like Astro Boy and C-3PO of the Star Wars films.

Running Skills
Work on ASIMO got underway in 1986, when Honda inaugurated research on a bipedal robot. In 1996 the company released the world's first autonomous bipedal humanoid robot, the P2 prototype, which was unsurpassed in its ability to mimic the movements of people. In 2000 it went one step further and created a humanoid robot that was compact, lightweight, and could walk like a person. The robot was dubbed ASIMO, a name taken from the first letters of the words, "advanced step in innovative mobility."

ASIMO pushing a cart (Honda Motor Co.)

ASIMO has taken part in a variety of events and educational programs. In 2002 it had the honor of being the first nonhuman to open a trade session of the New York Stock Exchange.

The latest ASIMO possesses a high level of motor skills that enable it to perform tasks alongside people in offices and other places. It can run twice as fast as its predecessor, covering six kilometers in an hour while maintaining a proper posture. It can even round bends and swerve left and right at high speeds. Its movements are smooth and nimble and remarkably close to those of a real person.

Good Social Skills
But running is not all ASIMO can do. By reading information contained on an IC teleinteraction communication card, it can recognize and turn toward the person holding the card. It can also walk in front of somebody while maintaining a certain distance. With such skills, it could be used in an office to face and bow to visitors and take them to a certain place as it says, "Welcome Mr. (or Ms.) XXX. Please come this way."

ASIMO can also walk beside a person who is holding its hand by determining the strength of the person's grip and the direction in which it is being led using a force (kinesthetic) sensor on its wrist. It can push a wagon, responding flexibly by slowing down, speeding up, or changing direction to avoid an object. It can carry a tray of drinks - controlling how much it jolts to avoid spilling the contents - and hand the tray to somebody. And it can interact and communicate with people on quite a high level.

Murata Seisaku-kun riding along a beam (MURATA BOY)

An array of sensors is what enables ASIMO to move so subtly and in sync with people. An optical sensor lets it identify people. A floor surface sensor enables it to check its position against information on a map in its memory with a combination of infrared light and a CCD camera. And an ultrasonic sensor lets it detect objects within three meters of it. ASIMO has great ability to take stock of its surroundings by processing information from these sensors, choosing pertinent information, and responding with flexibility.

Other companies have also achieved success in developing humanoid robots. Murata Manufacturing Co., a major electronics parts manufacturer, unveiled the world's first bicycling robot in 2005. Murata Seisaku-kun, as it is called, can ride around freely thanks to a sensor that lets it avoid objects and can maintain an upright position when stopped without falling. Its balancing ability is far superior to that of its predecessor from 1990, and it can even ride along a narrow beam.

Given the strides that Honda and other companies are making in robot research, soon robots may become a familiar presence in people's daily lives.

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"Asimo" in Honda

Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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