ASIMO visits Tampa

In the past, numerous writers and filmmakers tried to predict the engineering advances humans would be capable of by the year 2000. Flying cars, fully automated homes and humanoid robots were among the things that they dreamed of for the future.

Today’s technology still hasn’t manufactured a commercially-sold flying car, but it has produced devices that allow people to control all household electronics with a single remote panel and has also produced various humanoid robots with a range of capabilities.

Honda Motor Company is one of the leaders in the field of humanoid robotics. The company has been experimenting for 17 years to create a robot with the physical capabilities of a human to assist people with basic daily duties.

In 2000, years of research culminated in Honda’s unveiling of Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, the world’s most advanced humanoid robot to date.

On Thursday and Friday, the Museum of Science and Industry displayed ASIMO for local summer school programs and day camps. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, for the price of general admission the public was invited to experience ASIMO’s capabilities.

The “Say Hello to ASIMO” presentation consisted of a 25-minute live demonstration of the robot’s technical abilities, including walking forward and backward, turning smoothly, climbing stairs, balancing on one leg, dancing and even talking.

The presentation and accompanying film takes the audience on a journey through the history of the field of robotics, as well as the different stages of creation for ASIMO.

Honda’s preliminary research and development in humanoid robotics began in 1986. The first prototype robot to debut was named P1; this robot could walk, but only at one speed and only on a flat surface. In 1996, P2, the next model, was capable of moving forward, backward and sideways.

Further progress came with the P3 model in 1997. This model improved to have the capability of balancing. ASIMO is a more advance version of P3.

Standing at 120 cm. tall (approximately at eye level of a normal size adult sitting in a chair), ASIMO weighs around 115 pounds. Its physical features, such as size, shape and weight, are all designed to be optimal for assisting people with tasks such as opening doors and turning lights on and off.

The robots have the ability to recognize moving objects, sound and faces, appropriately for a technological being and has Internet connectivity.

By using visual information captured by a camera in its head, the humanoid robot can interpret the positioning and movement of a person’s hand, recognizing gestures and responding to them accordingly. ASIMO is also capable of detecting movements of multiple objects and to assess distance and direction.

Specialized movements, guidance and explanation functions now enable ASIMO to be customized for a wide range of uses. These robots are currently being leased to several corporations and museums in Japan to greet people at offices and events. In February, the humanoid robot also started working as a receptionist for visitors at Honda’s Japanese Headquarters.

“Honda is very much an engineering-focused company, so stemming off into robotics was a natural extension for us. We make products to enhance people’s mobility, and we hope that in the future we can offer people greater freedom by giving them vicarious mobility through ASIMO,” said Stephen Keeney, project leader of the ASIMO North American Educational Tour.

The trip to Tampa marked ASIMO’s first public appearance in Florida. The demonstrations on Thursday and Friday were full to capacity, as were all of the shows on Saturday and Sunday, said Stacy Theberge, spokeswoman of ASIMO.

Honda started the ASIMO North American Educational Tour to provide an opportunity for students to experience a humanoid robot up close. The company hopes that young people who witness ASIMO will be encouraged to study subjects such as math, engineering, physics and computer science.

“We are thrilled with the success of the educational tour thus far, and we are honored to be reaching so many students with our educational message about the benefits of science and how humanoid robotic technology may someday be of great assistance to humankind,” said Jeffrey Smith, leader of the ASIMO North American Project. “We look forward to nine more months on the road, meeting students and the public across North America and encouraging students to pursue their dreams.”

The North American Educational Tour will continue to visit major U.S. cities until March.