When it comes to robots, many of us science fiction enthusiasts are enamored by those glimmering metallic contraptions showing off their futuristic skills and boisterous strengths. Now, robotics as a subject is certainly more expansive than our romanticized reveries. But if any humanoid robot comes close in allusion to that long held fan fueled dream, it must be Honda's very own ASIMO.
Short for Advanced Step in Innovative MObility, the Asimo is the evolutionary brainchild of Honda scientists. Envisaged as a contemporary conception that would cater to humanity on a societal scale, the ambitious robotic project was actually conceived way back in 1986. So, while we are at it, let us take a brief trip down the memory lane.
Initially starting out just as a pair of legs for simulating the walking style of humans, the scientists designed a slew of prototypes in the form of E1, E2 and E3. The next big step was to imbue in this system the capability to traverse uneven terrain like staircases. This culminated in a series of next generation models like E4, E5 and E6 with enhanced walking mechanism complimented with accentuated stability.
Finally and momentously, the scientists decided upon giving their conception an interesting humanoid characteristic. Thus the robust yet cumbersome P1 (at 6’ 2" tall, and 386 lbs) was born, with a conspicuous system of head, body and arms. Fueled by its successful maneuvering features, the designers further improved upon its total mechanism by imparting credible motor skills and automatic movements. The efficacious results went through two other prototypes (P2 and P3), until reaching to the bantam yet efficient Asimo, standing at 4 feet 3 inches (130 cm) tall and weighing around 119 pounds (54kg).
Specifically designed to co-ordinate with everyday tasks such as opening door knobs, lighting switches and even working on computers, the Asimo (making its debut in 2000) was the ultimate derivation of robotic knowledge, formulated over the past century. Endowed with sophisticated attributes such as turnable hip joints, enhanced walking and running speed, the humanoid creation is also known for its potent structural attribute. Composed from a lightweight yet sturdy magnesium alloy body, the skin is draped with visually alluring glittery plastic component. Even the power train fueling the contraption is kept at a conducive level by incorporating lithium batteries for extended life. But at the end of the day, it is the slew of human like interactive features that sets Asimo apart from most of the other robotic designs. So, without further ado, let us check out some of them.
Walk Like a Human
Since its inception in 2000, the Asimo in itself has gone through a few improvements relating to its motor skills, maneuvering and senses. From the physical perspective, the scientists have developed a newer walking/running pattern that allows our bot to move much faster from 6 kph (3.7 mph) to 9 kph (5.6 mph). In this regard, the improvement is not just associated with speed of movement, but also with the inherent fluency of movement. According to the designers, Asimo has over 34 'degrees of freedom' in its body, starting from its head to 'boot'. These innovative features allow the contraption to climb steps, run, jump and even hop on one leg, thus facilitating the naturalistic replication of human motional behavior.
Senses and intelligence
Beyond the incredible motional activities, Asimo is also endowed with advanced sensing capabilities. The designers have developed an adroit system, which allows the robot to recognize a myriad of patterns like random objects, textures, colors, sounds and behavioral states like gestures and facial attributes. All of this information is captured by Asimo's in-built dual camera system (inside the head). The robot accepts this visual info, and then processes the data for a responsive action. For example, if a hand is extended towards Asimo, the robot would recognize it as a invitation for handshake, and thus extend its limb for completion of the action (of hand shaking). As a matter of fact, the nigh autonomously intelligent Asimo has the ability of recognizing 10 different faces and interacting with them. Moreover, it can also comprehend voice and sound patterns to single out its recognized partners (interactive humans).
Physical task performing capabilities
We have already talked about Asimo's motional characteristics like walking, running and jumping. Along with these, the robot is also infused with a plethora of physical attributes, tailor made for achieving specific tasks. This can be seen in the intricate structural considerations undertaken by the scientists, especially in its multi-joint hands, legs and fingers. According to the designers, the limbs and their extensions are furnished with an orbit control technology that allows for the controlling of a whopping 57 motors imbedded in the joints. This in turn endows Asimo with 'smart' abilities like finger control functions (carrying and opening small containers), and avoiding and approaching specific objects in a compact terrain.
Control and power
We did mention something about Asimo being an almost autonomous robot. But what does not make it a fully autonomous conception is its inability to make decision on its own. Of course, the robot can be pre-programmed with pre-requisite markers, to achieve a specific task. On the other hand, the contraption can also be conveniently controlled manually. Utilizing the 802.11 wireless technologies, one can control Asimo via a computer. The user can not only dictate the motional pattern of the robot, but can also experience the visual feed provided by the 'sight' of the robot's internal camera 'eyes'.
Asimo has toured all over the world, showcasing its unique aptitude, flair and abilities. Sometimes touted as the world's most advanced humanoid robot, the conception is still being developed for further fascinating capabilities. Going along this rampant progression, as of now, the elaborate system has undergone some crucial improvements. All of these augmentations have seriously accentuated its overall level of 'intelligent' autonomy (which certainly supersedes the constraints of manual control).
The myriad of attributes infused in Asimo makes it the perfect candidate for conscientious yet strenuous physical jobs such as helping out elder people. Moreover, the robot is inculcated with an adroit adaption technology, which allows it to move about in utterly unknown environments. So, with its robustly built yet bantam body and the strides of high-tech mechanisms, we can certainly hope for the future Asimo to reach out to people even in emergency cases such as landslides, oil spills and earthquakes.