ASIMO is a remarkable humanoid robot built by Honda that looks a bit like a kid in a spacesuit. He is often shown off at trade shows in order to convince people that robots will not revolt and take over the world. So far, ASIMO can run (meaning he can chase you down!), climb stairs (meaning there’s nowhere you can hide!) and screw the lid off of a bottle (meaning he can twist your neck!). And he can kick a soccer ball and dance.
What ASIMO can do
Scientists at Honda started making the ASIMO robot in 1986 and have been working on him for over 25 years. They began by teaching him how to listen to commands and slowly added new features over time. Today, ASIMO is the most advanced humanoid robot in the world and can understand a handful of phrases and even knows sign language. He can recognize faces, voices and gestures too.
ASIMO’s physical abilities are phenomenal for a robot. He can walk (even up and down stairs), run, carry things, point, wave, and push a cart.
What ASIMO is made of (hint: not sugar, spice, and everything nice)
ASIMO has hip, knee, and foot joints which robot researchers refer to as “degrees of freedom”. A single degree of freedom will allow movement up and down or left and right. ASIMO has 34 degrees of freedom spread throughout his body. He has three degrees of freedom in his neck, seven on each arm, six on each leg, and a few more on his body (torso). This allows ASIMO to move freely (and chase down fleeing mad scientists).
To feel things ASIMO uses electronic sensors instead of human nerves. He uses cameras (one for each eye) to see and microphones to hear. ASIMO has many other sensors throughout his body including a speed sensor to sense his body position and speed and a gyroscope sensor to help him balance and recover if he starts falling down. His feet have floor sensors and his body has six ultrasonic sensors which help him detect objects around him (ASIMO also has a big red button on his back but the robot scientists said never, never, ever, tell anyone about the big red button).
At 4-feet-tall and 115 pounds, ASIMO (which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) looks remarkably similar to a human and thanks to his onboard computer system, his abilities are growing more and more human-like every day. All of the input ASIMO receives from the sensors is fed into a computer that analyzes what ASIMO is seeing and doing and in the blink of any eye, tells ASIMO how to react to the input.
For instance, with each step that ASIMO takes, it has to determine how fast it is moving and where its center of balance is in order to shift its weight for the next step. Then it decides how to shift its weight – either by changing the length of the next step, shifting its upper body position forward or backward, speeding up or slowing down, or slightly changing the direction that it is stepping in. It does all of this in the time it takes to take a single step – and this is only for WALKING! To allow ASIMO to run, robot scientists had to give him the ability to bend and twist his upper body too. To allow him to push a cart they added force sensors in his wrist so he could determine how much force to use without pushing himself over.
Honda designed ASIMO to be friendly looking and hopes that someday ASIMO will be able to cook our dinner, clean our houses, work in our gardens (Reeko suggests we call those robots “trans-farmers”), and do our homework. Reeko just hopes he never learns how to fly.
Lab monkeys note: Reeko wanted us to tell the little scientist about one thing that ASIMO cannot do very well yet – he can’t turn without stopping. In fact, Reeko says it’s a pretty big deal for the robot makers and no walking-robot on the planet is able to turn very well without stopping or slowing down. He said if a robot decides it’s smarter than you and decides it wants to be YOUR boss, you can, at least today anyway, run in circles. We asked Reeko, “But what about when the kid gets dizzy and falls over?” Reeko sighed, handed us a book about robots, and said “Here, read this”. You can probably get this book at your school library or local bookstore – just ask the librarian or clerk for it. It’s called “Robot Survival Tips” and is written by Anne Droid.
Here’s a quick history of Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot and how its development has progressed since 1986.
Named “EO” at this time, can walk (shuffle actually) very slowly.
Now named “E4”, can walk really well and in fact, can climb stairs.
Now named “P1”, it weighs over 400 pounds and stands over 6-feet tall. Can maintain its balance even if pushed.
Size is reduced to make it not so scary. Name changed to ASIMO. ASIMO can not only walk but can turn on light switches and turn door knobs.
ASIMO learns to run and sensors are added so it can communicate with people.
ASIMO learns to push a cart and carry a tray.
More pictures of ASIMO
Click the pictures below to see a bigger version.
Videos of ASIMO
Here’s a compilation of remarkable ASIMO moments that demonstrate the amazing progress Honda has made in the field of robotics.
Here’s another short video that shows ASIMO in action.
This video was shot at a demonstration in a faraway land. Reeko hid in the audience with his latest invention, a super-sonic laser gun disguised as a flower lapel, and in an effort to keep robots from taking over the world, waited for an opportune moment to slow down ASIMO’s progress.