How Honda’s ASIMO Became the Running, Drink-Serving, Autonomous Robot It Is Today

In 1986, Honda developed a robot that could barely move its legs. Last week, it revealed one of the most advanced robots in the world.

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“One of the biggest challenges in this regard is to develop a robot that can think conditionally, to interact and adapt in a rapidly changing and unstable environment,” wrote Smith. “We’ve made strides in this regard, but have a long way to go.”

As to what specifically you’ll see in the next version of ASIMO, that’s “proprietary information.” While we personally take that to mean “laser beams,” it more likely means advancements in autonomous behavior.

The steps ASIMO has taken in terms of autonomous behavior are pretty impressive. Autonomy is the key to adaptability, which is the key to making robots practical for everyday life. Consider iRobot’s Roomba. It’s simple enough; a tiny vacuum cleaner that automatically changes directions when it bumps into something, but the fact that you can just leave it alone to do its thing makes it incredibly useful.

Obviously, ASIMO has to have a higher standard. You couldn’t have the equivalent of a tiny man walking around your house, randomly grabbing things and opening doors. But as Honda’s newly formed Honda Robotics division ramps up ASIMO’s ability to balance itself, avoid obstacles, gather and process multiple sources of information, and base actions on predictions of behavior, you’ll start to see a robot that can function in a home or hospital without trashing the place like a drunken sailor.

As for when you’ll be able to buy a version of ASIMO for yourself, Honda isn’t telling. For now you’re going to have to settle for technology developed for ASIMO that ended up in Honda’s cars, such as voice recognition and collision prediction. Hey, at least you can always play with your Roomba.

MORE: New Robot from ‘BigDog’ Makers Moves Eerily Like a Human

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