July 5, 2013
ASIMO Fails To Please In Japanese Museum
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Honda's ASIMO robot has been receiving upgrades for many years as the company tries to improve on a platform they believe will be the first commercially available helper bot. In late 2011, Honda announced ASIMO was finally able to respond to human movement and its surroundings. As a way to test these capabilities, Honda asked a Japanese museum to hire ASIMO to act as a walking, talking tour guide. Yet according to the Associated Press, ASIMO hasn't been performing well while on the job, confusing people who are raising their hands to ask a question and those raising their hands to take a picture of the white-clad robot. ASIMO also isn't yet ready to answer spoken questions and, instead, only receives questions from a touch panel. Even then, ASIMO can only answer 100 pre-determined questions.
According to a report from the Associated Press, during a recent tour in Japan, ASIMO broke down and kept repeating a programmed response of "Who wants to ask Asimo a question?"
When it is working well, ASIMO is supposed to walk and talk, explaining its features to museum goers while projecting diagrams and other images on a big screen. It's also meant to understand whether a child or an adult is interacting with it and modify its responses accordingly. Unfortunately, during a Wednesday presentation it was unable to do so. In a statement, Honda's robotics division head Satoshi Shigemi said even the simplest tasks that can easily be performed by a human child require a great deal of work and engineering. As such, ASIMO has a long way to go. For instance, it's meant to understand when it's being waved at, but instead it interpreted visitors raising their cameras and smartphones to snap pictures as waving.
"Right now, it can recognize a child waving to it, but it's not able to comprehend the meaning of the waving," said Shigemi.
Honda has plans to use the robot to help people trying to buy train tickets, purchase items from a vending machine, or anywhere else a human is having difficulty interacting with another machine. Wednesday's poor performance has now reportedly raised concerns with those who already believed ASIMO was little more than an expensive toy with very little application. For instance, following the Fukushima nuclear crisis of 2011, ASIMO was unable to help in the recovery efforts, as its components were deemed too sensitive to be exposed to nuclear activity. Honda also said they needed to build new arms for the robot that could be used in these kinds of dangerous environments.
During this week's presentation, ASIMO was able to understand it did have an audience of people in front of it. Using an array of six wireless sensors in the ceiling, Honda's robot could track human motion and know where they were standing on the floor. The visitors were then able to choose four randomly selected questions from ASIMO's 100 preprogrammed queries from a touch panel.
Though the intellectual side of ASIMO might not yet be fully formed, its dexterity has been proven in previous exhibitions. Honda's robot has before shown off its ability to hop on one foot, kick a soccer ball, open a twist-off cap and pour a liquid into a soft paper cup without gripping it so tightly as to crush the vessel.