Last week’s New York Auto Show saw Honda make a robot – and not a car – the centerpiece of its press conference. Even though it had a very important new product to introduce, Honda instead chose to have ASIMO do a song and dance number, and then promptly depart in the middle, due to (an admittedly adorable) case of “stage fright”.
For years, many thought that ASIMO was a foray into the world of robotics for Honda. Japan’s demographic profile means that an unprecedented number of elderly people will populate the country by 2050, with an equal lack of young people to care for them. The need for innovations in elderly care is significant, and humanoid robots like ASIMO were envisioned as a possible solution. Aside from performing necessary tasks, the level of artificial intelligence is high enough that ASIMO can interact with a human – according to Bloomberg, things like tracking multiple conversations are already part of ASIMO’s capabilities, and engineers are teaching the robot to distinguish between someone passing by, and someone who wants to stop and chat. These technologies might have automotive applications too
“Made of magnesium alloy covered with white plastic resin, Asimo is fitted with eight microphones, 14 power sensors that read the direction and amount of force, sonic-wave sensors that detect obstacles as far as three meters (almost 10 feet) away, and two stereo cameras that can sweep 120 degrees.
That information is processed by software that lets the robot negotiate obstacles and interpret postures, gestures and faces. Honda researchers are fine-tuning Asimo’s ability to distinguish between a person walking past and one who wants to stop and chat, said Kawagishi.
That’s the sort of judgment capability that can be applied to cars: Asimo’s image-processing technology can recognize whether a pedestrian is leaning forward to cross a street. Artificial intelligence software can judge quickly enough to react, said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, the president of Honda R&D.”
Stereo cameras, like Subaru’s EyeSight, are already in certain production cars, while Honda has experimented with them on autonomous vehicle prototypes. As Bloomberg notes, adapting these capabilities to the higher speeds of automobiles will be a challenge for Honda’s engineers. More interesting is the use of ASIMO’s stability systems (such as self-centering to prevent the robot from falling) on future motorcycles. But that’s a discussion best left for those acquainted with two wheels as well as two legs…