Asimo – The Humanoid Robot

I went to see Asimo the humanoid robot created by Honda yesterday down at Darling Harbour.  I have to say it’s really amazing technology and very impressive.  The show goes for 1/2 and hour, and is essentially (as you’d expect for a free show) an ad for Honda, but it’s still worth going to see I think anyway.  Next week it will be in Parramatta, so if you want to see it check it out there.  The details are on the associated website.  Note however that to get tickets you have to be really early.  I got there 45 minutes early but the tickets were all gone (you can only get tickets in the 2 hours before the show).  However I did hop in the reserve queue and managed to get in that way.  I think that although they have tickets, they still provide a lot of space for those without tickets – the reserve queue was quite long and a fair number of those behind me appeared to have been let in anyway.

Unfortunately as I guess the show’s just meant to be for entertainment for all levels (down to pre-schoolers), there’s not much said about how the robot works (it was more what it does than how).  You might be a bit underwhelmed if you don’t understand the complexities of what the robot has to deal with in order to function, and how far it has come over the last 20 years.  The Tech Guide on the website is well worth reading as it fills in a lot more details on how it operates.  I guess I’m just a nerd and like to know how things work.

At uni (I studies Computer Systems Engineering at UTS in Sydney) there were 2 related subjects (called Computer Systems Analysis and Computer Systems Design) which provided my only real experience with robots.  We had to analyse, design, and write the software for the robots in a “chocolate factory” – a massive project for a bunch of students to do in a semester (there were a lot of late nights) ,which has given me a lot of appreciation for dealing with robotics and the issues you have to deal with just to do something simple.

In the show Asimo walks, runs, dances, interacts with an audience member (shaking their hand, copying what they do),  and picks up a tray of coffees and takes it to another location.  Asimo does walk a little bit as if he were constipated, but it is damn impressive.  Running (considering the definition of running is having both feet off the ground at the same time) and landing smoothly for the next takeoff is even more impressive.  “He”can do this at 6km an hour – not bad!  Also the recognition of the (I can only assume) unscripted movements of the chosen audience member (I also assume there is no human involvement in this recognition either) such that he can copy it is extremely impressive.

So fair to say I am very impressed by the technology.  Just if you do go to a show, expect a half hour ad for Honda, and don’t expect to be hit with many details on the technology.  But worth the effort anyway.

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