Robot walks, talks, discos like humans

The robot’s creators call it the world’s most advanced humanoid robot.

by Kori Koch

Walking, talking, doing the hula and disco dancing, the humanlike robot ASIMO showed students its talents Thursday at Coffman Union.

ASIMO, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, and whose creators call it the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, made its Minnesota debut on a nationwide tour of engineering schools. The Honda Motor Co.-designed robot is approximately 4 feet tall and approximately 115 pounds.

“This is a great opportunity to see sophisticated technology in action. ASIMO has received publicity similar to that of a rock star,” said Will Durfee, a University mechanical engineering professor.

With hopes to inspire scientific curiosity among people of all ages, Steven Keeney, ASIMO project leader, said the program’s ultimate goal is to benefit humanity.

University students saw ASIMO demonstrate its ability to recognize specific human faces, voices and postures.

“I was most impressed by its ability to balance and climb up and down steps,” University junior Brian Sondag said.

Blair Hickey, the show’s host, said 26 servomotors located throughout the machine allow it to maintain balance. These sensors, which act like human joints, send immediate signals to the robot’s central processing unit, located in its backpack, which allow it to plan ahead.

What makes ASIMO unique, Hickey said, is how it can vary the size and speed of the steps it takes.

University junior Erik Janzen said, “I was totally blown away. I’ve always thought that that was all science fiction.”

Keeney said the purpose of the tour is to encourage the study of science.

The program, designed to create a people-friendly robot to walk and operate where humans live and work, began in 1986, Keeney said.

Julia McQueen, an American Honda Motor Co. employee, said the hardware value of ASIMO is approximately $1 million.

The University’s Institute of Technology offers courses in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as computer science, that teach students basic theories behind building manipulative machines, Durfee said.

There will be public demonstrations at 2:30 p.m. today, and 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Great Hall at Coffman Union.