In 1996, Honda revealed the results of its research and development of robots—not industrial robots, but humanoid robots that could become a part of people’s everyday lives. To demonstrate the viability of this vision, Honda announced the development of the P2 and P3 robots and then, in November 2000, ASIMO was introduced.
The journalists assembled at the Honda headquarters in Aoyama, Tokyo, cried out in surprise when the adorable robot no taller than a first-grader walked out in step with then-president of Honda Motor, Hiroyuki Yoshino. Although its repertoire of abilities was still quite limited, ASIMO was more than just a mascot. It possessed a highly endearing presence that could make it a natural fit within a household where it could help people with simple tasks. Through many years of debate and hard work, Hirose and his team had reached a monumental milestone. Hirose’s eyes welled up with tears. When he gave his speech to the press that day, only his colleagues who had been through so many good times and tough times with him could tell that he was not speaking in his usual tone of voice.
Masato Hirose’s life changed dramatically when Honda announced the development of ASIMO. The humanoid robot appeared on Japan Broadcasting Corporation’s popular Kohaku New Year’s Eve music show, visited the King of Thailand, and participated in many other events that earned it many fans. Hirose became well-known as the man behind ASIMO’s development.
ASIMO’s performances for children were Hirose’s personal favorites. The children’s reactions and questions inspired Hirose to continue exploring the future relationship between robots and humans. Further refinements gave ASIMO an impressive range of new abilities, yet Honda maintained its conviction that the robot’s ability to walk side by side with a person remained a key part of its functionality and charm.Returning home from a drive, Hirose spread out his map to review the route he had traveled. His children, with whom he had once put together plastic models, were now grown-up and showed little interest in accompanying him on his drives. Their reluctance made Hirose feel a bit lonely, but at the same time he realized it was only natural. Hirose believed that each person should follow his or her own path of inspiration, as he had done in developing robots. But life could be so much richer with the presence of a companion walking by one’s side during the journey. Hirose looked up from the map when he heard a tray of tea placed lightly on the table. His wife smiled back at him.