Asimo struggles on first day as science museum guide

Japan's premiere robot can't catch a break after its glitch-filled performance at a Tokyo science museum.

Asimo
Asimo had trouble interacting with guests and froze on its first day. Honda/Miraikan

Pity Japan's poor robots. We expect so much of them, and they just don't deliver.

Honda's Asimo is the country's most sophisticated humanoid robot. It's been looking for a job ever since it was unveiled nearly 13 years ago, and this week it got another chance.

Asimo was put on duty as a guide at Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (aka Miraikan) and was supposed to interact with guests. That proved too challenging.

When people were holding up their smartphones to snap pics of the astronaut droid, it thought they were raising their hands to ask questions. It also froze and kept asking, "Who wants to ask Asimo a question?"

Guests were trying to interact with Asimo by selecting questions on a touch-panel device, since it doesn't have voice recognition. It was programmed to respond to about 100 questions during its four-week stint; an earlier version of Asimo has been at the museum for years, doing daily demos.

"Right now, it can recognize a child waving to it, but it's not able to comprehend the meaning of the waving," Satoshi Shigemi, who oversees Honda's robotics technology, was quoted as saying by AP in a story carried by numerous media.

Shigemi said Honda wants Asimo to be able to recognize when people are talking to it and respond appropriately.

Since it was first shown off in 2000 after years of costly development, Asimo has impressed with its fluid walking, jogging, and ability to manipulate objects such as bottles and cups. It had a major update in 2011, but its artificial intelligence remains stunted.

Although it wasn't designed to help with industrial accidents, some expected it to be deployed to Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Battle-hardened robots from Roomba maker iRobot were sent there instead.

Asimo was intended to be a personal assistant, but it's doubtful whether it will ever be anything more than an expensive example of Honda's engineering prowess.

One possible use for Asimo, according to Shigemi: It could help people buy tickets from vending machines at train stations to speed up the process for those who aren't familiar with them.

While some tourists to Japan find these vending machines confusing, one wonders if better design and not another machine would be the answer.

I hate to give up on Asimo, and hope its gig works out. In the end, becoming a museum piece seems to be its ultimate destiny.


Is Asimo saying "I love you," as Honda suggests, or giving a shout out to Black Sabbath? Honda
 

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