Honda seems to be really committed to its research on robots. This time it is its world famous droid, Asimo, who is back in the news. Honda is now calling it as the world's first robot with the autonomous behavior control technology. This means that the new Asimo is more intelligent than before and can make decisions of its own. It can now move without the need of an operator and can adapt to situations. It was in 1986, that Honda began its project on robots and Asimo was first unveiled in the year 2000. The initial models E1-E3 just mocked the way humans walk, while E4-E6 made stair climbing possible. Later, the robot was made to look more like humans by adding a head, body and arms.
Honda's first humanoid robot, P1 model was a monster, which was 6-feet 2-inches tall and weighed 386 lbs. Since then Honda has been looking to make them more compact and lighter, as evident from the later models P2 and P3. Asimo, which is more advanced humanoid robot, was conceived to assist people in their daily mundane tasks with more stable walking motion as well as flexibility of hands, fingers and legs. It can walk, run, play soccer, climb the stairs and also serve drinks. The new Asimo was unveiled few days back by Honda and demonstrated a more robust droid that can jump, run faster, walk on uneven surfaces, has got dextrous hands, has voice recognition and doesn't bumps into anyone.
Now all the Honda's research work would come under its wing, Honda Robotics. The research and development in this area has also helped Honda in applying the technologies developed to its other business units. Honda has referred to the transition of Asimo from automatic machine to more autonomous as a paradigm shift in the robotic industry. This means that the robots in the future will have more will to control their actions consciously according ti their surroundings. It's going to be more as a reaction to an action instead of some repetitive mundane tasks.
The vision is to make it possible for future robots like Asimo to co-exist with people in day-to-day life. The key enhancements to enable this transition were to provide a more balanced posture to the droid, improving the sensors and enhancing the feedback mechanism it uses to respond to the changes in the surroundings and the ability to infer the next action based on the current situation and information they collect from the surroundings.
Asimo collects information about the surroundings from multiple sensors on its body that simulate our way of perceiving things through our senses. It constantly evaluates the occurrences in the surroundings and changes its actions to accommodate to new changes and act accordingly. If the droid is giving a presentation to the customers and if drinks are served in the middle, it would stop the presentation and would first offer them to the customers.
Similarly, it can interrupt its current action in different situations and modify it based on the demands of the situation. Honda has developed the technology to help Asimo recognize and differentiate between different faces and voices. The new space sensors help it predict the next movement of a person in its surroundings. This avoids any collisions with people, while passing by a number of other people.
Honda boasts of the new Asimo as a more agile robot that can perform many flexible movements such as running and hopping on both feet. The scope of leg-movement has been improved and the posture has become more stable. Honda had to face embarrassment some time back when it stumbled from stairs and the question were asked regarding overall stability of the movements.
Now, though it is promising more, asserting that Asimo is now ready to walk even uneven surfaces. The new droid is dextrous with four fingers and a thumb. Sensors are placed on the palm as well as individual fingers to determine the movement and the force required to perform an action. This means if you are feeling lazy one of your weekends and need someone to serve you the Coke in a glass, your robot would do it without any flaws.
If we look at the specs, the new Asimo beats its predecessor in a number of areas. It is 6 Kg lighter and currently stands at 48 Kg. The number of degrees of freedom has increased form 34 to a whopping 57, making it more aware of its surroundings. Also, it can run faster than its previous model at 9 Km/h, the previous model had a speed of 6 Km/h. It has taken Honda about two decades to take this technology to the next level. Asimo has been of great importance to the academic world as well.
It has demonstrated its capabilities throughout the world. It is the research in the robotics that helped Honda develop other devices such as U3-X, which is a self balancing one-wheeled drive and other such walking assist devices. The other useful device is a robotic arm which can be used to perform tasks in conditions dangerous for human beings, such as nuclear reactors. The end-piece of the arm can be changed to get different kinds of work done from it. It may still take decades for these droids to simulate the complexities of human emotions, but the research may lead to new devices that function in a similar way and could be exploited in specific situations.