In the 20th century, it seemed like robots were going to radically change our lives in the near future. Intelligent androids would handle all the daily tasks we didn’t care for, and make our lives more comfortable and easier than ever. Honda’s Asimo was a pioneer in the field of humanoid robotics, but the proud little robot has now retired after 20 years of service, as reported by the Bangkok Post.
A retirement ceremony was held for Asimo on March 17th, as reported by Nippon.com, celebrating the end of two decades of public performances. Asimo walked, jumped, and hopped around, showing off its abilities, as well as singing for the assembled audience. “I have many fond memories of interacting with many people,” Asimo said in a tear-jerking speech, expressing gratitude for its long career. “Thank you for these 20 years.”
Asimo, or ASIMO as is more technically correct, stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility. Standing 4’3″ tall, and weighing 54 kg, Asimo debuted in 2000 as the culmination of years of research into humanoid robotics. Endowed with the ability to perceive its environment, Asimo could recognize gestures, postures, and moving objects to better interact with humans.
In addition to being able to walk in a bipedal manner, Asimo could also shake hands and understand when someone was waving or pointing and respond appropriately. A video shot in 2014 shows off Asimo’s abilities well, including climbing stairs and hopping around on the floor.
Asimo quickly became a star, serving as a symbol of Japan’s technological output and hinting that robot utopia was peaking over the horizon. Over the years, Asimo enjoyed such honors as meeting President Barack Obama and ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. It even inspired an episode of South Park in 2004.
Asimo was the result of Honda’s robotics efforts, which kicked off back in the 1980s. The efforts started with the E-series robots which aimed to master basic bipedal walking. E0, the first in the series, managed to walk on two legs in a straight line, taking a full 5 seconds per step. Progress came slow and steady, with the company first going public with its P2 robot in 1996, the first model bearing the familiar humanoid form factor.
After Asimo’s debut in 2000, Honda regularly demonstrated the robot around the world and made upgrades over the years, increasing its running time and adding more interactive abilities. Further development was later curtailed, and Asimo spent its later years demonstrating its abilities at a Honda showroom, as well as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.
While Asimo was once a cutting-edge piece of technology, later developments from other companies have overshadowed Honda’s early work in the field of walking robots. In particular, the Atlas robots from Boston Dynamics have demonstrated dynamic abilities that far exceed what Asimo was capable of. Truly intelligent robots remain elusive, of course. While both Asimo and later robots have shown off some impressive feats over the years, most of these demos have taken place under carefully structured conditions with judicious editing. We’re still a long way from sharing a subway carriage with humanoid robots going about their daily business.
In any case, Asimo will live on as a pioneer in robot history, even if it’s not out working as a jobbing robot anymore. Honda has said it will continue to sell Asimo merchandise going forward and keep the character alive. The charming robot that walked upright and proud will now have a happy retirement knowing it contributed to the advancement of robotics technology.
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