At first blush it doesn’t seem like the two enterprises have much in common. Like Tim Hortons having a division that builds canoes.
But according to Honda, the thing that binds cars and trucks, motorcycles, the new HondaJet, and humanoid robots all together is that they all contribute to human “mobility.”
ASIMO is designed to be a helper to people who have limited mobility, such as those confined to wheelchairs and beds.
I know what you’re thinking — can ASIMO help me if I’m just lazy? I don’t see why not. Like, how’s it going to know?
I had a chance to see ASIMO last week, at its visit to the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, where it performed to an appreciative audience of young students.
Or maybe the students were just happy to get the day off from school.
Either way, they applauded and cheered when ASIMO responded to questions from his handler, kicked a soccer ball, stood on one leg, walked up and down a flight of steps and ran across the stage.
Very impressive indeed.
After the “performance,” ASIMO was joined on stage by Eric Wedin, project leader of the ASIMO team, to take some questions from the students, and one of the first questions went right to the heart of the matter: “How much money has Honda spent on ASIMO?”
“ASIMO is a priceless piece of R&D technology,” was Wedin’s practiced reply.
Other questions were, in turn, insightful and slightly off the wall. I preferred those in the latter group, like … “Can ASIMO swim?”… “Can ASIMO travel on rough ground?” … “Could you put a jet-pack on ASIMO?”
The subtext of this line of questioning seemed, to me at least, that the youngsters had no pressing need for ASIMO’s help around the kitchen, but would love to pal around with a mini Ironman that would give you some ‘cred around the neighbourhood. Why make a robot if it can’t shoot lasers?
Later, I asked Wedin to expound on the decision to make ASIMO so cute.
He said cuteness and a small scale (just over four feet) were definite design criteria, considering its “people helper” role.
At that height it can relate better at eye-level to immobilized individuals. Makes sense… Who wants a seven-foot robot bringing you some porridge?
Robots don’t have to be humanoid. In fact, they might be more useful and capable if they took on some other form.
According to Wedin, ASIMO is humanoid because of the comfort factor and because it needs to operate in environments that have been optimized for humanoids — like homes, schools and hospitals.
The human form obviously works too, so it’s not the worst one to research — even if your business model is currently based on wheeled devices.