Honda began development of its humanoid helper robot in 1986. Honda engineers knew the robot had to be able to easily navigate around a house or building, and that meant the walking technology had to be perfect. Therefore, their first attempts were basically boxes with legs. Once the walking mechanism was mostly developed, arms, hands and finally a head were added.
The ASIMO Timeline
- 1986 - Static walking The first robot Honda built was called EO. EO walked very slowly, taking sometimes 20 seconds to complete a single step. This was because EO did what was called "static walking." In static walking, after the robot begins moving one foot forward, it has to wait until it has its weight balanced on that foot before it begins to move the other foot forward. Humans don't walk that way, so the research continued.
- 1987 - Dynamic walking By now engineers had developed a method for "dynamic walking," which is much more human-like. With this walking technology, the robot (now called prototype E1, soon followed by E2 and E3 as research progressed) leaned into the next step, shifting its weight and moving the other foot forward to catch itself so that rather than falling forward, it walked forward.
- 1991 - Walking like a pro In prototypes E4, E5 and E6, Honda's engineers perfected the walking mechanism to the point where the robot could easily walk on an incline, up stairs and on uneven terrain. Because truly walking as a human actually requires the use of the body, arms and head, engineers had to move on to the next step and add the rest of the body.
- 1993 - A more human-looking robot With a body, arms, hands and a head, the next generation of prototypes (P1, P2 and P3) looked more like a "humanoid." P1, however, was a looming 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall and weighed 386 pounds (175 kg). P2 was scaled down slightly in height, but weighed an even heavier 463 pounds (210 kg) -- not something you want stepping on your toes in the kitchen. However, it could walk very well on uneven surfaces, inclines, and could even grasp objects and push carts. P2 could even maintain its balance when pushed. Finally, P3 was built at a more comfortable (and less frightening) 5 feet 2 inches (157 cm) tall. Weighing 287 pounds (130 kg), P3 could walk faster and more smoothly than its predecessors.
- 1997 - ASIMO Even more improvements were made to the walking system, allowing ASIMO to walk gracefully and easily in almost any environment. Sophisticated hip joints allowed ASIMO to turn smoothly -- something other robots have to stop and shuffle in order to do. In thinking about how ASIMO was to be used, the engineers made the decision to further reduce ASIMO's size to 4 feet (122 cm) so that not only would it not be intimidating to people who were seated (or standing, for that matter), it would actually be at eye level. This height also made it possible for ASIMO to work at table height or at a computer, reach light switches and turn door knobs. ASIMO's very strong but lightweight magnesium-alloy body, covered in plastic "skin," weighed in at only 115 pounds (52 kg). Technology called "predicted movement control" allowed ASIMO to predict its next movement automatically and shift its weight to make a turn. ASIMO's stride could also be adjusted in real time to make it walk faster or slower. P2 and P3 had to use programmed walking patterns.
- 2005 - Better, Faster, Stronger Engineers further refined ASIMO's motion system, boosting its walking speed from 2.5 to 2.7 kilometers per hour and giving ASIMO the ability to run at speeds up to 6 kilometers per hour. Honda increased ASIMO's height to 4 feet 3 inches (130 centimeters), and the robot put on a little weight, tipping the scales at 119 pounds. The engineers switched ASIMO's power supply to a lithium battery that doubles the amount of time it can operate before recharging. They also implemented the IC Communication card technology that helps ASIMO interact with people. New sensors allowed ASIMO to move in sync with people while holding hands.