Honda ASIMO learns sign-language and masters stairs

Honda has revealed a new version of ASIMO, its humanoid robot, now able to climb stairs smoothly and communicate using sign language. Shown off in New York this week, ASIMO may look the same as before to the casual glance, but Honda has in fact reworked both the upper and lower body, including adding extra degrees of freedom to the hands so that they can be used for more precise tasks.

In fact, each hand now has 13 degrees of freedom, which is sufficient to allow the robot to communicate with either American or Japanese sign language.

Meanwhile, the hands are also laced with sensors so that ASIMO gets real-time feedback on how tightly it's gripping, and figure out if it's likely to crush whatever it's holding. "Many more complex tasks can now be performed because of the improved operational capacity in the hands," Honda robotics chief Satoshi Shigemi said of the enhancements.

From the waist down, ASIMO now boasts improved stability and balance, most notably when the robot is climbing stairs. Previously, that was a somewhat stilted process, but Honda has polished it up for smoother climbing, faster running, and the ability to change direction more effectively.

Honda's lingering goal is still to put humanoid robots into homes and businesses, and the ASIMO program – which is now 14 years old – is evidence both of how committed it is, yet how long it will take.