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Japanese Celebrity Robot Gets A Real Job

Honda Motor's new humanoid robot Asimo, which can run at a speed of 6kph and also in a circular pattern, walks with a Honda employee at the company's headquarters in Tokyo 13 December 2005. The 1.3m tall, 54kg ASIMO achieves the ability to act in sync with people and will debut as an office aid to carry drink service for guests. AFP photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno.
by Shingo Ito
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 13, 2005
Japan's celebrity robot, ASIMO, shifted from curiosity value to practical use on Tuesday with the world's first walking humanoid set to make its office debut next year as a receptionist.

The latest ASIMO prototype unveiled in Tokyo can guide guests to a meeting room, serve coffee on a tray and push a cart with a load of up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds), its creator Honda Motor said.

The cutting-edge robot, which resembles a child in a white astronaut suit, has doubled its running speed to six kilometers (3.7 miles) per hour and can now run in a circle and zigzag.

"The level of ASIMO's capability was just good enough to entertain people on the stage in the past, but the new ASIMO can work at places closer to us," said Satoshi Shigemi, a Honda official in charge of the robot's development.

"The new ASIMO can perform the task of a receptionist or information guide automatically," Shigemi told a news conference. "Honda is aiming to create a humanoid robot that can help people and live together with people."

During the conference, the new ASIMO, which stands 130 centimeters (51 inches) tall and weighs 54 kilograms, ran at top speed on a stage and then carried four cups on a tray to a coffee table.

The original ASIMO, born in 2000, has danced and dined with dignitaries and business leaders at home and overseas, serving as a symbol of Japanese technological wizardry. ASIMO has made guest appearances in concerts and at the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

But the robot will get down to real life starting in April next year as it will work as a receptionist at a Honda office in Wako in Saitama prefecture north of Tokyo, guiding guests at the entrance and serving them coffee.

Honda plans to clone the robot and use ASIMO at its other offices and lease them to companies or organizations for an estimated rental fee of 20 million yen (166,000 dollars) per year, officials said.

ASIMO, however, has to catch up with other practical robots already on duty in Japan.

A number of security robots joined police and guards during the six-month World Expo, which ended in September after drawing 22 million visitors to the venue built in a forest park in central Aichi prefecture.

Ligurio, one of prototype security robots working there, can move at seven kilometers per hour on its wheels and recognize a stranger 50 meters away even at night. It can grab explosives or containers of lethal chemicals and remove them to safe places.

"Robot makers are likely to further focus on their own strong points from now on," Shigeaki Yanai, an official of Japan Robot Association, told AFP.

"Some companies will focus on entertainment and others will concentrate on practical use," Yanai said. "While ways to use robots are different, their goals are the same -- how they can earn profit in the long run."

During the Expo, Honda's rival Toyota Motor showcased robot musicians performing everything from brass big-band numbers to rap music.

Sony, which has developed its popular robot entertainment dog AIBO and the world's first running robot QRIO, will "stick to the entertainment factor in the company's robot projects even in the future," a company spokesman said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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