NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 14, 2002 – Some 20 years after Honda first decided to pursue its dream of developing a humanoid robot, "ASIMO," the world's most advanced humanoid robot today made its first appearance in the U.S. At a unique bell-ringing ceremony, ASIMO opened trading in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Honda's stock listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Honda Motor Co., Ltd. President and CEO Hiroyuki Yoshino described Honda's humanoid robotics program as consistent with its direction to enhance human mobility. "Increasing mobility for our customers -- improving their quality of life -- remains the focus of Honda," said Yoshino. "With ASIMO, our dream for the future was to create something that did not exist – an advanced humanoid robot capable of walking like humans and operating as a helper for people in areas where they live and work."
At the NYSE ceremony, the 4 foot ASIMO robot ascended a set of stairs on the bell podium, shook hands with NYSE Chairman and CEO Richard Grasso, rang the opening bell and waved and clapped along with hundreds of traders on the floor of the Exchange.
An unprecedented achievement in humanoid robotics technology, ASIMO has already provided benefits to Honda through the challenges its development has presented to the company. Considering that Honda's work in humanoid robotics is a major reason many young engineers join Honda, Yoshino said: "In my view, the challenge itself is enough reason to pursue this dream."
Honda has begun to consider potential ways its humanoid robots could benefit the world. "We have always been customer focused," said Yoshino. "Once we put one or two robots into use, the ideas may come from our customers. Perhaps, in the future, ASIMO will assist the elderly and help with household chores."
However, its first actual application is in the area of "info-tainment" – as a rental unit to other companies in Japan – because this will introduce humanoid robots in a positive, fun and friendly way.
The Development Process
Work to develop an advanced humanoid robot began in 1986, when Honda established a research center focused on fundamental technologies, including humanoid robotics.
Honda engineers began researching how humans walk, using the human skeleton for reference in locating the leg joints, the heel joint and the position of the toes -- studying movement and range of motion on flat ground as well as stairs. In 1986, E0 ("E" represents "Experimental" model), the first bi-pedal (two-legged) robot was made to walk. E0, and subsequent "E" series robots developed from 1987-92 were used by Honda engineers to establish stable walking technology, including steps and sloped surfaces.
In 1993, Honda began developing "Prototype" models ("P" series), attaching the legs to a torso with arms that could perform basis tasks. P2, the second prototype model, debuted in December 1996, using wireless techniques making it the first self-regulating, two-legged walking robot. P2 weighed 463 pounds with a height of six feet tall. In September 1997, P3 was introduced as the first completely independent bi-pedal humanoid walking robot, standing five feet, four inches tall and weighing 287 pounds.
The Creation of ASIMO
Honda engineers were challenged to apply the company's traditional focus on the customer to create something that could function in an actual human living environment. It was determined a robot should be easy to operate and small in size, enabling it to help people -- for instance, to look eye to eye with someone sitting in a chair.
Introduced to the world in November 2000, ASIMO's height of four feet is ideal because its eyes are located at the same level as the eyes of a seated adult. The size also allows ASIMO to operate light switches, door knobs, work at tables and other useful activities. ASIMO's weight of 115 pounds is actually a 20% lower volume-to-weight ratio than its predecessor P3.
ASIMO's unique attributes include Honda's intelligent, real-time, flexible walking "i-WALK" technology which enables the robot to walk and turn smoothly and continuously. Earlier robots had to stop in order to make sharp turns. The new system also gives ASIMO greater stability in response to sudden movements.
Through "predicted movement control" ASIMO can predict its next movement in real time and shift its center of gravity in anticipation of a turn. Further, ASIMO's stride can be adjusted real time, allowing it to walk faster or slower without requiring stored walking patterns as with previous robots, including P2 and P3.
Finally, ASIMO can be controlled by a portable controller – resembling a typical video game controller – whereas P3 was controlled only from a workstation. This permits more direct and flexible operation of ASIMO.
In November 2001, new advancements in the robot were introduced to enable its use in "infotainment" (informational/entertainment) functions in reception areas of corporate offices, special events or other public areas. Three companies including IBM Japan already have lease agreements with Honda.
The latest technological advancements enable ASIMO to move more freely in "3D" environments. This new technology enables ASIMO -- with its high degree of flexibility -- to navigate irregular configurations, walk up and down long staircases, and turn on the spot on slopes that require a change in posture with every step.
Further, ASIMO can now correct its own foot placement position and body direction one step at a time, creating its specific route independently, and more efficiently. Improvements were also made to the "human interface" features, enabling ASIMO to receive voice input and guide customers (currently only in Japanese). In addition to commands from a PC, it is now possible to use voice commands to control arm and hand motions and locomotion. This is achieved through an on-board CPU for voice management that has been incorporated into ASIMO.