We said 2019 will be the year of legged robots. Well, it looks like the Honda ASIMO won’t be part of that plan.
Development on the Honda ASIMO robot has stopped, according to multiple reports. Honda says it will continue researching humanoid robots, but they won’t have the ASIMO name. Honda’s main focus will shift to using some of ASIMO’s technology to develop robots for more practical applications, including nursing and road transport.
The Nikkei Asian Review, for example, reports that Honda ASIMO technology helped lead to the development of a $2500 robot lawnmower. NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, reports the Honda ASIMO team has already been disbanded. Honda denies this, but NHK hints at increasing competition in the field, specifically Boston Dynamics’ incredible Atlas humanoid robot, as a reason for ceasing development.
ASIMO, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, was introduced in 2000 and has been a symbol of Japan’s robotics expertise. The Honda ASIMO is adept at walking, runs 5.6 MPH, climbs stairs, and even hops on one leg. It can also recognize moving objects, determine the distance and direction of the objects and interpret voice commands and human gestures. The 4-foot-3-inch robot weighs 119 pounds and has a one-hour battery life.
The seventh-generation Honda ASIMO was introduced in 2011 with improved intelligence and the ability to autonomously determine its next moves. According to Kyodo News, that was the last time the Honda ASIMO was upgraded.
Honda actually began researching walking robots in the 1980s. There was the E Series from 1987-1993 that Honda engineers used to establish stable walking technology. Honda then followed up with the P Series until 2000 when ASIMO was introduced. Check out the history of Honda’s robot developments here to see how far its come with walking robots.
There’s hasn’t been a company that’s yet figured out how to really monetize bipedal robots. Agility Robotics has sold several Cassie bipedal robots to universities, but it never felt like Honda ever wanted ASIMO to be anything other than a marketing prop used for demos and photo ops with President Obama.
Perhaps the Honda ASIMO was developed too early to have any practical use, similar to what happened with the Jibo social robot. In 2013, Honda announced it was working on a disaster response robot based on ASIMO. And in October 2017 it gave us a sneak peek at the 5-foot-6-inch tall, 187-pound E2-DR humanoid that can climb stairs, negotiate obstacles, and even fit through tight spaces.
With the major improvements to Atlas, and the welcomed addition of Cassie, we can only wonder what could have been had the Honda ASIMO been a priority for the last seven years. Perhaps it would be the Honda ASIMO doing flips and going for a job, not Atlas. For years, Asimo didn’t have any serious competition. That’s certainly not the case now.
If you want a little more detail on the direction Honda is taking some of its robotics development, here’s a glimpse at the robots Honda introduced at CES 2018.