What drives Honda to design robots?
What impact has the recent earthquake had on the robot development program? We spoke with Satoshi Shigemi, supervisor of robot development at Honda.
The robotics research program at Honda was launched with the basic aim of designing robots to perform useful tasks that make our lives easier. As a provider of mobility solutions, Honda is dedicated to improving our understanding of human functioning and behavior. Given that we supply machinery that people use, it is important that we have a proper understanding of how people think and operate. This is the fundamental principle that underpins the robotics development program.
ASIMO was originally conceived as a communications robot that operates in conjunction with humans, and this remains our research focus in the future. The March 2011 earthquake prompted a change of direction in robotics research at Honda, by illustrating the need for working robots capable of performing tasks in dangerous places on behalf of people. The concept of the working robot is based on the older P1 through P3 models, predecessors to the modern-day ASIMO. We gained a great many new insights during the development of a working robot for use at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, particularly with respect to identifying key functional requirements and tailoring the available technology to suit those requirements. Rather than concentrating on pure robots research, we are now more committed to working towards the ultimate objective of producing robots that are genuinely useful to society, and naturally this includes the ASIMO.
Fundamental Technology Research Center
Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
Honda Robotics Research
To this end, we have begun development of a Humanoid Disaster-relief Robot for use at nuclear power stations and industrial sites. The humanoid robot is primarily designed for initial emergency response procedures in the event of an industrial accident, but will also be capable of conducting general workplace safety patrols and inspections at other times.
As part of our research, we visited a number of nuclear and coal-fired power stations and industrial factories and facilities, where we found very many cramped and confined spaces such as narrow stairwells and areas crowded with pipes and conduits. Such spaces can only be traversed by a humanoid robot that walks on two legs like a human. In this way, the recent earthquake has shown us a whole new area of potential for the disaster response robot.
The robot development program will now focus not only on what the robots of the future might do, but how robots can be used right now to meet the needs and expectations of wider society. Honda Robotics is committed to the development of technology and products that satisfy customer expectations. Our mission is to imagine a world in which robots work side by side with humans, while at the same time exploring potential applications of robotics technology in the present day.
Applications of robotics technology
The walking and balance control systems developed for the ASIMO have been adapted to produce a variety of innovative solutions such as the Rhythm Walking Assist, designed for people with restricted strength in the legs, and the UNI-CUB personal mobility device, which affords freedom of movement in all directions.