LAS VEGAS—I have seen the future and its running away from me…and to me…and sometimes in circles around me. Im talking about Hondas updated ASIMO humanoid robot, which made its North American debut during a packed press conference on the CES 2007 show floor.
Roughly the size of a four-foot-tall child, the all white robot has undergone a major overhaul. Jeffrey Smith Assistant Vice President North American Honda Group called it "a full model change." Much of the work was done to enable ASIMOs newest and most stunning trick—running. ASIMO still does all the things he did when we last saw him in person, but now the motions are far smoother.
In fact, ASIMO seems more sure of himself, though there were reports that he stumbled during a later demonstration. Even so, seeing ASIMO run transforms him from a curiosity into something out of science fiction.
Running at 6 kilometers an hour, ASIMO doesnt hesitate or wobble in straight runs and small circles. More remarkable, ASIMO, with his arms pumping and head looking straight ahead, gathers enough speed and exerts enough control for both feet to leave the floor for 0.8 seconds during his trot. If you think about what it feels like when go for a run, youll realize that ASIMOs run is almost uncannily human (you can see a video here).
During the press conference, ASIMOs running ability was met with a stunned silence—no longer were we just watching a man-made object, ASIMO looked like a little boy running. With this kind of mobility and elegance of motion, its almost possible to believe that we will have robots in our homes and society "running errands" for us in our lifetime.
ASIMOs eventual role as a home care giver is no longer as hard to imagine, yet many have often wondered why Honda—primarily known as a car manufacturer—is taking the lead on this.
Smith put it simply, "If you look at Honda as a mobility company, then you understand how ASIMO fits." He added that ASIMO will become an extension of people who need "mobile" assistance.
To make ASIMO run Honda had to redesign his body, changing out motors to ones that could handle the stress and increased rotational needs of this, for a robot, high-speed gait. Since no one built motors that were up to the task, Honda designed its own. They also added new ultrasonic sensors for identifying obstacles and added infrared lasers—again, Honda developed the technology on its own.