In Japan, humanoid robots are seen as an important part of the solution to the looming double problem of a shortage of labor and an aging society
. The first challenge is for robots to be seen as a normal part of society by helping out with everyday tasks, which is why Aldebaran Robotics' diminutive NAO
robot recently undertook a two week internship at the main Mitsubishi UFJ bank in central Tokyo. Gizmag called in to see how NAO was doing.
Humanoid robots are continually improving and Honda's ASIMO is no different. Honda's first two-legged robot was born in 1986 and since then, subsequent models have become increasingly advanced. Today's newly-announced version is autonomous, intelligent and responsive.
“It has a top speed of 6 km/h, it balances itself, and you couldn’t crash it if you tried. How can you possibly see that as one of the biggest thrills of your life?” That was the response from an automotive journalist colleague at the Tokyo Motor Show after I eulogized riding Honda’s UNI-CUB β personal mobility device. After a lifetime of journalism covering every form of technology, cars, motorcycles and "boys toys,” from driving and riding exotica worth a decade's wages, this was one the greatest thrills I had experienced – being one of the first to ride a landmark personal transportation device as important as Henry Ford’s Model T.
Practical exoskeletons have moved considerably closer to everyday use with the news that Honda has begun leasing 100 of its Walking Assist Devices
to hospitals in Japan so that it can monitor and validate their usefulness in the real world. Honda's announcement means it has joined Panasonic's Activelink Powerloader, Cyberdyne's HAL, Argo Medical Technologies' Rewalk, Rex Bionics' REX, Ekso Bionics EKSO, Raytheon's XOS2, RB3D's Hercule and Lockheed Martin's HULC exoskeletons, which are all at or close to market.
We've been following Honda’s Stride Management Assist since its first unveiling
in 2008, to the introduction of its sturdier cousin
into the workplace and then its U.S. tour
in 2009. Now the ASMIO spin off is scheduled to undergo field tests by Japan's National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG). The NCGG will test 40 units of the device on people with limited walking ability at the Elder Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Center at Resora Obu Shopping Terrace in Obu, Japan.
Ask anyone what their favorite real-life robot is, and chances are the majority will say “That one made by Honda, that looks like an astronaut.” They will be referring, of course, to ASIMO
. The self-balancing, walking bipedal robot is actually the latest in a long line of similar Honda robots, that began in 1986 with one named EO. The company has also created several versions of ASIMO itself, along with multiple copies of each, to the point that there are currently over 100 individual ASIMO robots in existence. Well, as of today, none of those can any longer be considered state-of-the-art. The newly-named Honda Robotics group has unveiled the latest and greatest ASIMO, that sports several new features over its predecessors – including the ability to act autonomously.
A self-balancing unicycle experimental vehicle from Honda to be shown at the Tokyo Motor Show
next month might just be history in the making. Weighing less than 10kg, the 24 by 12 by 6-inch U3-X experimental vehicle runs for an hour, is small enough to be carried onto an airplane as hand luggage, has a wheel which spins in two planes and is set to challenge, perhaps even change, society’s concept of personal mobility.
With increasing numbers of post-war baby boomers beginning to face old age, devices assisting people remain mobile as they grow older will become big business. Honda
, which started out making motorcycles, has anticipated the needs of an aging population and invested heavily in mobility robotics research. The company is planning to demonstrate its prototype walking assist devices as part of a technical exhibition at the 2009 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress
, at Detroit's Cobo Center, from April 20 to 23.
Honda has taken some very significant steps into what could be an absolute revolution in human-computer interface. Honda Research Institute, Japan, has demonstrated a Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) that enables a user to control an ASIMO
robot using nothing more than thought. Wearing a headset containing both electroencephalography (EEG) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) sensors, the user simply imagines moving either his right hand, left hand, tongue or feet - and ASIMO makes a corresponding movement. The system is still huge and slow, and the commands are quite crude and imprecise - but Honda's baby steps represent a huge leap in technology. The next task is to refine the system to work with fine motor controls, add the ability to decode non-motor brain signals and speed it all up. Then, the doors will be open for a whole range of machines that can sense your thoughts, intentions and feelings, and act directly upon them. BMI has staggering potential - this is just the beginning.
Those of you who (like us) have followed the development of Honda's ASIMO
humanoid robot might be interested in a new "Inside ASIMO" feature now available on the bipedal bot's website. The feature uses a 3D computer-generated model to provide an interactive look at ASIMO's form, function, movement and intelligence capabilities, outlining the technology that enables the robot to, among other things, climb stairs, run, avoid obstacles, recognize faces and distinguish sounds.