We’ve seen him strut around onstage, strike a pose, do a little dance and – apart from one unfortunate incident – make it up the stairs. But HONDA has decided it’s time for ASIMO to quit posing and upskill for a real job.
While HONDA haven’t said outright that ASIMO is headed for a career in hospitality, their latest upgrade has certainly tried to stick it to the critics and give the robot some practical functions, now that he can act autonomously, without remote control.
His new skills were on display at the Tokyo Motor Show, in December last year. He can roll out the drinks trolley, twist open a thermos, pick up a paper cup without crushing it and pour your drink without spilling it. What more could you want in a bartender?
ASIMO can also distinguish between three orders shouted at him at once (an essential skill if he’s going to be working shifts on Friday and Saturday nights), and if you walk towards him in a crowd, he’ll anticipate your path and move out of your way. Plus, two or more networked ASIMOs can decide how best to cover the crowd. Yes, ASIMO is thinking for himself, and working in teams.
At first, it seemed strange to me that one of the world’s leading robotic technologies should be programmed for what seems like basic work, but the cruel truth about ASIMO is that he just doesn’t have the calculating brain power of, say, an artificial intelligence system, like IBM’s Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, Watson.
ASIMO’s strengths lie in his humanoid body – the brilliant achievement of mechanical upright walking, and the recent work on his dexterous hands that are now flexible enough to speak sign language. Made in our own image, ASIMO should be able to perform tasks in a familiar way, in our world of stairs, obstacles and unstable ground.
It’s not a particularly original or innovative idea to build a robotic slave to do your bidding, but the advantage of ASIMO is that things can continue to be done the same way they’ve been done in the past. A robotic bartender is still a bartender, just made of wires and circuits.
There’s also potential for ASIMO to be adapted to perform a range of tasks, like a handy mechanical Inspector Gadget. And not just in a domestic setting. The technology behind ASIMO’s clever new fingers has already been adapted as an experimental robotic arm, designed for disaster sites or places too dangerous for people to work.
Who knows what jobs, big or small, it could be programmed to do. But ASIMO’s potential is still that – potential. It’ll be a while before we see signs up in shop windows, ‘Help wanted – organic humans need not apply’.
Would you like to see an ASIMO waitressing at your local pub or café?