Honda's new humanoid robot, created with the aim of one day helping people with daily tasks in the home, took its first steps on British soil today.
The all-new Asimo – a 4ft 3in (1.3m) intelligent robot introduced by the Japanese firm in July – ran, jumped, hopped, danced and delivered drinks as he made his debut at the Wired conference in east London.
He is "a little bit of a show-off", according to Vikki Hood, of Honda Motor Europe, who helped Asimo showcase his skills. "He absolutely loves the audience response to what he can do."
Japanese technology giant Honda has been working on Asimo for nearly 30 years and today's unveiling showed an updated version of Asimo, which first publicly appeared in 2000.
He now has added dexterity enabling him to hold a cup without crushing it, to shake hands and even do sign language. He also has greater speed – the ability to run at about 6mph – which enables him to kick a ball.
Asimo climbed stairs, ran in a circle and switched from running, walking and hopping without stopping, which his predecessor could not do.
He now has an intelligent walking system helping him to walk in a line and swing his legs like a human, along with being able to lean his body to counterbalance, like a rider on a motorcycle, so that he can run around a corner.
Asimo has 34 motors to help him perform different types of human movement – such as tilting, balancing and navigating – including a sensor in his wrist which tells him to release a grip.
Asimo – which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility – is eventually intended to help people in various situations of need, such as the elderly, or those in disaster zones.
Parts of the technology developed by Honda for the Asimo project have been used to help clean-up efforts at the stricken Japanese nuclear plant Fukushima, but in the humanoid robot, upgrades have focused on making Asimo better understand the world around himself.
Without giving any time targets for when he might actually be available for domestic use, Hood admitted "we still have a long way to go before introducing Asimo into the home – we do not put a fixed time line on it".
Getting batteries for him that last a lot longer "would help to make it more commercially viable", she added. At the moment Asimo has a battery life of between 20 and 30 minutes, if he is running at full speed. He can last longer if he is not doing too many taxing tasks.
Engineers are working on improving his physical capabilities, his dexterity and his ability to lift weight so that he can be helpful in the home.
Hood said: "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done around people's acceptance of robots and identifying what their role in society will be.
“For us as a Japanese company, and looking at Japan where it has an ageing population, we see Asimo as perhaps helping to look after your elderly parents who live with you, helping your children with their homework and also helping with the daily chores."
She did not rule out that Asimo might one day be available from an electronic shop alongside other domestic appliances.