Honda's Asimo robot during a presentation in Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Honda's Asimo museum guide struggles in his job

Honda’s Asimo robot who has recently taken up a job as a guide in National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Japan, struggles to understand what people actually want.

The walking, talking, interactive Autonomous Explaining Robot was reported to struggle to distinguish whether visitors were raising their hands to ask questions or just pointing their cameras or smartphones to take a picture of their futuristic guide.

Asimo, connected by wireless to six sensors in the ceiling to detect where a crowd is gathering, has been said to freeze in mid-action during the technology demonstration several times and repeat a programmed remark: "Who wants to ask Asimo a question?" 

Asimo has no voice recognition software and only reacts to around 100 predetermined questions selected from a touch-panel device, making communication with rather lengthy and unnatural.

Originally considered to serve in the wrecked Fukushima power plant, Asimo was found to be too sensitive for such hard work, forcing Honda to develop more robust robotic technology.

Satoshi Shigemi, Honda’s robotic technology supervisor, stresses that the technology behind the robot is still being developed. Eventually, the robot should be able to tell whether an adult or a child talking, and react accordingly.

Shigemi said the robot could serve as a ticket machine assistant at railway stations in the future, helping people who don’t know how to proceed with ticket purchases.

Honda has been working on the humanoid prototype since 1996. In previous demonstrations, Asimo has shown it can run, hop on one foot and kick a football. It has fingers with joints and can open a thermos lid and pour a drink. It has image sensors and can make its way through objects in a room.

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