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Asimo, Honda’s amazing biped, heads to robot retirement home

Honda is retiring its amazing Asimo robot.

News of company’s decision to end development of the robot came via local media. But Honda insisted Asimo’s talents will not be wasted, with much of it incorporated into other technology produced by the company, such as mobility aids and autonomous vehicles.

Asimo, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, first appeared on a Honda drawing board in the mid-1980s. The curtains came off the initial version in 2000 and wowed commentators for being the first robot to walk independently and climb stairs, though admittedly the process didn’t always go too smoothly.

The 4-foot-3 robot tipped the scales at 119 pounds and had a myriad of truly impressive capabilities.

For starters, it could walk smoothly, run at a speed of 5.6 mph, and hop on the spot with amazing fluidity, and with far greater skill than even most of today’s humanoid robots. In fact, its agility was so remarkable that sometimes you couldn’t help wondering if there was actually a Honda employee inside pulling all the moves.

But Asimo’s talents extended far beyond its physical skills. Multiple sensors enabled it to recognize people’s faces, postures, gestures, and speech, allowing it to converse with humans and take commands. Asimo even had the ability to identify different voices speaking at the same time and could respond to different instructions from each one. It could hold and move objects with its human-like hand, and sign language was a part of its repertoire, too.

Although it’s the end of the road for Asimo, a number of the engineers who helped develop it are continuing with other projects using elements of the robot’s technology, with several reported to be working on Honda’s autonomous-car project using their acquired knowledge of sensors and artificial intelligence technology.

The Japanese automaker showed off four new robots last year that incorporate some of Asimo’s smarts. Among them are a companion robot and a small, autonomous, off-road vehicle.

Honda produced several different versions of Asimo, with the last one emerging from the workshop in 2011. With the likes of Boston Dynamics making great advances in recent years with their own super-agile robots, one can only imagine how awesome Asimo might be today if Honda’s engineers had continued developing its skills over the last seven years.

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