ASIMO’s 11th birthday passed with nary a whisper on October 29th, but today Honda unveiled a new model dubbed “All-new ASIMO”. This is the first major update since 2007, and the first aesthetic change since “New ASIMO” was revealed in 2004. The new version is less revolutionary than evolutionary. Its form factor has undergone only a slight redesign (it’s the same height, but shaved 6kg in weight), but its physical capabilities and artificial intelligence have been improved.
On the physical side, ASIMO’s degrees of freedom have jumped from 34 to 57 (mostly due to its new hands). It is now able to jump a few inches off the ground, and it can jump and balance on one foot, which is no mean feat for a bipedal robot of this size. It was also shown running much faster than before (from 6kph to 9kph), can now run backwards, and was shown walking on a field of bumpy obstacles without losing its balance. It still walks and runs a little goofy compared to something like Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN, which is a bit disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.
A new model robot hand (which we reported back in October of 2009), may be the one fitted onto the new ASIMO. Its fingers are now independently actuated, which allows it to perform sign language and more natural gestures. Independent fingers are hardly exciting – KAIST’s HUBO and other robot hands have had them for years – but it’s nice to see Honda finally catch up. With tactile sensors in the palm of each hand and force sensors built into each of the fingers, ASIMO unscrewed the top of a thermos and poured a cup of tea.
Honda claims they are working on a new system which increases ASIMO’s autonomy, which brings it closer to the possibility of coexisting in busy public places. They say ASIMO is able to adapt to changes in its surroundings, including people walking around it, through the use of vision and other sensors. It can estimate what direction a person is walking and plan accordingly. The previous version was able to stop and yield the right of way to a single person approaching it head on, so one assumes this is a more complicated planning system.
And they’ve combined face recognition with voice recognition work that has been in the research stage for many years. The robot is now able to parse words spoken by three individuals simultaneously, and recognize who said what. It’s difficult to say how good its speech recognition is as a whole, but it’s a nifty trick.
This is clearly an absolutely beautiful piece of engineering, and the refined design makes ASIMO cuter than ever before. I’m glad to hear that the company’s new president Takanobu Ito has reaffirmed Honda’s stance on the long-term goal of commercializing ASIMO. I wanted to see ASIMO react to being shoved from various directions, as well as stand up from lying on the ground. While Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN may have leapfrogged Honda’s work, ASIMO continues to distance itself from virtually every other robot in development. While they’re busy trying to catch up to the last version, Honda has once again raised the bar. In addition, Honda showed off a new prototype robot arm (which it says applies technology from ASIMO) that will be used at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
For high quality photos, see Honda’s official gallery here (more after the break) as well as Impress Car Watch (JP). Watch clips from news reports here and here. High-definition videos of the press event can be seen at K.Moriyama’s site here.
Video (slow-motion footage):