Do androids dream of early retirement? Honda ends Asimo development

by Antony Ingram
4 April 2022 2 min read
Do androids dream of early retirement? Honda ends Asimo development
Asimo will have a lot more time for sightseeing as Honda focuses development in other areas of the business Photos: Honda

Asimo, perhaps the world’s best-known humanoid robot, has officially retired as Honda ends development of its bipedal research project.

According to Nikkei Asia, Honda will use the lessons it has learned from more than three decades of development to improve its autonomous vehicle technology, and physical therapy devices for the elderly and disabled.

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Asimo took its first steps… well, before it took its first steps. Honda began work on a walking robot project in 1986. The first robots, named E1, E2 and E3, were simply a pair of legs designed to replicate human ambulation.

E4, E5 and E6 then added extra functionality such as the ability to climb stairs (already giving proto-Asimo the edge over Daleks, sci-fi’s malevolent but also most easily out-manoeuvred robots), while a head, body and arms were all added for improved functionality and better balance.

Honda Asimo
“You can go get your own damn coffee order from now on”

Given Honda’s next robot, P1, came in at 6’2” (188cm) tall and weighed 386lbs (175kg), we’re glad the company moved in a smaller, friendlier direction rather than pursuing some Terminator-style alternate future, and by P3 the technology had already been condensed by a foot in height.

The robot we all know as Asimo finally emerged into the limelight in 2000 and has been through several iterations since, culminating in the friendly-faced, 4’3” (129cm) droid we’re familiar with today.

Modern-day Asimo can move around freely, interpret basic voice commands and respond in kind, and even recognise up to ten different faces and address them by name. A snazzy backpack contains Asimo’s lithium-ion battery pack, which also houses some of the sensors the robot uses to navigate its way around.

Honda has already used research learned from the Asimo project to build compact, balanced mobility scooters and walking assistance devices aimed at the elderly, infirm and disabled – Japan in particular becoming conscious of its increasingly ageing population.

Honda Asimo
Research with Asimo has led to the development of mobility devices like UNI-CUB β

For Asimo though, it’s now a chance to kick back and relax. Perhaps it can finally elope to the country with one of those compact Honda generators – a handy symbiotic relationship, since our robot friend will still need power from somewhere, and the generator cannot move without being carried.

We can imagine Asimo finally picking up that NSX it’s always dreamed of too. It predates Honda’s supercar after all, and as one of Honda’s most famous corporate employees, we imagine the leaving package is fairly healthy, so there must be money in the pocket (or wherever robots keep their cash) for a tidy one.

It’s always seemed quite friendly, so a few public appearances – restaurant openings, the odd wedding party for a former colleague, that kind of thing – have got to be on the cards. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a tell-all book about Soichiro Honda clanging one of the prototypes around the head with the blunt end of a spanner…

Enjoy your retirement, Asimo-san, and don’t forget to write. Well, maybe email is easier.

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