ASIMO goes autonomous: Honda robot divorces operator

Honda's ASIMO robot has been given a new round of upgrades, slimming down and gaining the ability to autonomously monitor and interact with its environment, out of the control of a human operator. Advanced balancing – including quick reactions when ASIMO senses it's falling – together with an array of sensors that track physical objects and moving people, and predictive response algorithms that can independently decide on the next course of action all come together and shift the robot another step closer to integrating into a public environment.

Of course, as ASIMO is a 'bot it can actually do some things better than humans. The sensors, for instance, enable face recognition, and ASIMO can recognize multiple people speaking simultaneously; it's also capable of tracking peoples' movement and predicting where they'll be so as to avoid collisions.

New legs, meanwhile, mean ASIMO can walk, run, run backward, hop on one leg or on two legs continuously, thanks to stronger motors and a greater range of movement. Honda says that means the 'bot can walk over uneven floors while still maintaining a stable posture, which certainly suggests the company has created the perfect robot butler to bring you a martini while you're sunning yourself on rocks. It'll get to you before the drink has lost its chill, too, thanks to an increased pace: up to 9km/hr, from 6km/hr.

Finally, there's a new robotic hand with tactile and force sensors in each finger and the palm, giving ASIMO greater control over manipulating objects and ensuring he doesn't crush your olive while threading it onto a toothpick. Similar tech has been integrated into a standalone robotic arm, which Honda may eventually offer to industrial clients as a way of interacting with potentially dangerous substances or in hazardous environments.

"Combined with the object recognition technology based on visual and tactile senses, this multi-fingered hand enables the all-new ASIMO to perform tasks with dexterity, such as picking up a glass bottle and twisting off the cap, or holding a soft paper cup to pour a liquid without squishing it. Moreover, ASIMO is now capable of making sign language expressions which require the complex movement of fingers" Honda

Honda has set up Honda Robotics, a task force gathering together all of its robot research, ASIMO development, assisted movement devices and individual personal transport gadgets. The group will attempt to push commercial applications of the various projects.

[Thanks Si!]