Humanoid robot Asimo has a bad day at the office


Asimo, arguably the world’s cutest android, has started work as a tour guide in a Tokyo museum. And sadly it was a pretty bad first day.

Asimo (Advanced Step in Innovative MObility) is a humanoid robot designed by Honda to help people with mobility issues, though to date it’s mainly been used for demonstrations and as a way to interest people in technology and associated sciences.

The most distinctive feature of Asimo is a pair of legs complete with joints that can quickly react to changes in the surroundings. That’s made it possible for Asimo to climb stairs, kick a ball and even run at up to 3.7 miles per hour (at one time a record for humanoid robots.) It also has jointed fingers and can even open a Thermos flask and pour a drink,

Despite not turning 13 until later this year, Honda decided it was time Asimo started getting some work experience and sent it to work as a guide at the Miraikan science museum. It’s not the first time Asimo has been asked to do a real job but a previous assignment, to work in areas potentially unsafe for humans after the Fukushima nuclear incident, was cancelled when it became clear that the radiation also posed a risk to the robot’s workings.

The initial response to the museum work has been muted. That’s partly because Asimo’s main skills aren’t really appropriate to guide work, with its lack of voice recognition a particular problem.

However, attempts to use other sensors to interact with museum visitors have also proved flawed. Asimo was instructed to offer to answer a question (through a touchscreen interface) whenever it saw somebody had raised a hand. Unfortunately it’s not been able to distinguish between those who are making an inquisitive gesture and those who are simply lifting up a camera to take a snap. At one stage it simply repeated “Who wants to ask Asimo a question?” over and over.

There’s no word yet on what Asimo will do after the current assignment is over, though with its main characteristics being the ability to run and kick a ball, a lack of meaningful verbal communication, and a $100,000 fee to rent its services, a stint as a professional soccer player seems a good bet.

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