ASIMO up close: The friendly robot visits Europe, we say hello

There's a hush of anticipation as we wait for the all-new ASIMO to walk onto a makeshift stage inside a warehouse in an industrial estate just outside Brussels.

It's understandable. It is the first time ASIMO (Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility) has come to Europe and the first time he has had the chance to show off his ability to run over 9kph (5.6mph). Pocket-lint has come to witness the event.

We say he, but of course he is really an it, something Honda is keen to stress when we start to give the friendly-looking robot a gender.

Almost 30 years in the making, the latest version debuted in 2011, but with a subsequent stack of software updates, has learnt a load of new tricks. It's now the most advanced version of the robot on the planet. The urge to impress us is something that ASIMO is keen to do over the next 15 minutes of demo time on its first outing in Europe.

After showing us it can still walk up and down stairs with a nimbleness only normally afforded to sober people, a feat we witnessed when we met a previous generation of ASIMO in 2006, the 1.3m tall robot gets about showing us how it can now run at speeds up to 9kph.

The ability to run fast has come about because Honda's engineers have worked out how to keep ASIMO stable while moving at speed. 

But there's more. Its repertoire of tricks now includes the ability to change speed mid stride, hop on one leg, jump in the air, and even change its path by predicting the direction of a person walking towards it. The only thing is can't seem to do is bark like a dog.

After a spot of exercise, it is time for a drink.

ASIMO now has more sensors and moving parts - 57 in total compared to 36 in the previous version. That means it can use its multi-fingered hands to pick up bottles, unscrew the top and then pick up a paper cup before pouring a drink. It can do this by recognising objects using the camera built into its face, before serving the drink to a nearby human.

Yes, Honda has probably spent billions of dollars on a robot that, worse case scenario, could potentially replace bar staff across the globe.

But moving around and serving beverages is one thing, talking to people is another. As you would expect though, ASIMO has got that covered in more ways that one.

The short round robot has a surprisingly child-like voice it uses to converse with people, but how intelligent it really is is hard to tell at this point.

Conversations in our demo seemed scripted rather than off the cuff and we believe it will a long time yet before you'll be casually shooting the breeze with your robot chum.

Not that that would probably stop most people. Oh and it can do American and Japanese sign language too.

Our demo over, with ASIMO in full swing, it does the funky chicken and some dad dancing, proving that even robots can have a sense of humour. That sums up Honda's approach through and through. While Google and Boston Dynamics are creating robots for seemingly military purposes, Honda is trying to create a robot to help people around the home. And make them happy.

Whether ASIMO will ever make it into the home is yet to be determined. Judging from the improvements we've seen personally over the last 8 years, it is surely a foregone conclusion that at some point in our lifetime we'll be taking a walk or even running with ASIMO. Well our kids will. We'll settle for being pushed around in our wheelchairs. At speed. By a robot.

We look forward to that day with excitement and a small amount of trepidation.



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