Whole New Ball Game As A Robot Makes I-Contact

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asimo robotASIMO, the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, can’t drive his own car yet, but he is helping manufacturers make vehicles safer.

Twenty-one years of technology have allowed the all-seeing, all-hearing and sometimes-dancing Asimo to evolve from a disembodied set of legs that took up to 20 seconds to pace a single step into a robot that can slalom through road cones and run at 6 kmh.

The latest version of the Asimo robot is touring Australia and will be in Sydney until December 2.

Its engineering achievements have required scientists for the car maker Honda, the company behind Asimo, to master the skills that govern locomotion, such as how humans shift their weight as they walk. This technology has subsequently been adapted to help prevent vehicles from swerving, according to Hongsiri Suesattabongkot, a Honda engineer and former robotics student at the University of NSW.

The mechanical midget, which at 1.3 metres tall would barely be able to peer over a steering wheel, has also been responsible for a technology that warns drivers about impending collisions.

Just as Asimo must be aware of nearby objects so he does not bump into them and topple, so have car makers designed systems to help avoid collisions.

The “collision mitigation brake system” is already available in cars in Japan and alerts drivers of dangers by beeping. If the danger increases or drivers ignore the subtle audible cue, the car tightens the seatbelt and, ultimately, applies the brakes, said Marian Dekker of Honda Australia.

The Bangkok-based Asimo is one of three robots that travels the globe to demonstrate state-of-the-art accomplishments in robotics. Among Asimo’s traits, he can recognise up to 10 different people, greet them by name and shake their hands and even deliver their regular coffee order by carrying a tray or pushing a trolley.

Other skills include the ability to recognise his own name and turn to the person who spoke, and to climb up and down stairs.

At Honda’s headquarters in Japan, an Asimo robot performs some of the tasks at a reception desk. For example, he greets visitors, informs staff of their arrival and guides them to a predetermined place.

Asimo can be seen demonstrating his abilities at Darling Harbour, near the IMAX theatre, from today until Sunday, and at Prince Alfred Park in Parramatta from November 30 to December 2.

Conrad Walters

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