If you know who ASIMO is, you’ll most likely also know the slightly disappointing feeling that robots still aren’t anywhere near as cool as you’d hope they’d be by now.
That’s not to say Honda’s “Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility” isn’t impressive when it moves. It’s most recent update added spooky fluidity to its ability to run, hop, navigate, pick stuff up and respond to human facial prompts.
ASIMO’s real problem, the reason why it will always look like what it essentially is – a very expensive PR mascot – is that it’s too… nice.
More Dexter, less ED 209.
But that’s all about to change after Honda received repeated requests from those in charge of the Fukushima cleanup to send in ASIMO.
ASIMO wasn’t up to it, Honda said. But the technology behind ASIMO was.
So on June 18, Honda deployed its “High-Access Survey Robot” into the cleanup mix, basically a survey-performing robotic arm.
And after they had a taste of the action, they released this statement:
“Following the development of this survey-performing robot arm, Honda will accelerate the development of humanoid robots also designed for use in response to disasters, including the prevention and mitigation of damage caused by a disaster.”
Which is great news for bot fans everywhere, because while ASIMO looks like a Jetsons cast reject, there’s no denying the technology that drives him is anything short of mesmerising.
And Japan needs robots to clean up their earthquake-induced mess. Let’s face it, people aren’t exactly knocking the door down for the gig, despite offers of up to $500 a day for anyone “able to pick up phone calls”.
While there are any number of capable work droids in development and production, basically all of them are backed by government billions, such as DARPA’s Atlas and Big Dog, NASA’s Robonaut 2 and Northrop Grumman’s Titus.
DARPA is currently plumping up a $2 million prize for any team that can develop Atlas into a disaster-response bot.
But if a private company like Honda can produce a robot that works autonomously in such a delicate environment, and it wins the public’s hearts the way ASIMO has, then the gap between robot co-existence fantasy and reality will get a whole lot narrower, a whole lot faster.