Business / Corporate

End of the line for ASIMO, Japan's famed robot?

AFP-JIJI

It has played football with former U.S. President Barack Obama and danced for German leader Angela Merkel, but Honda’s ASIMO robot may have reached the end of the line.

Launched in 2000, the humanoid machine resembling a shrunken spaceman has become arguably Japan’s most famous robot, wheeled out to impress visiting politicians over the years.

But Honda said Thursday it may scrap future generations of ASIMO, now on its seventh iteration. “We will still continue research into humanoid robots, but our future robots may not be named ASIMO,” Honda spokesman Hajime Kaneko said.

The comment came after NHK reported that the carmaker had terminated ASIMO and dissolved the team making it.

NHK suggested increasingly intense competition in the field as a reason, pointing to the example of U.S.-based Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, which can jump on to a high step and even do a backflip.

Honda denied it had dissolved the team, but the brains behind the robot look likely to shift their expertise to developing robots with specific applications.

“We have obtained lots of technologies while developing ASIMO, and how to utilize them is one issue,” Kaneko said.

There have been no upgrades to the model since its seventh generation, which debuted in 2011 and can listen to and understand three people talking simultaneously. It was never sold commercially.

Honda is expected to focus on robots that can help care for elderly and disabled people, NHK said, citing unnamed company sources.

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