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Toyota, Honda competing in development of human-shaped robot for practical use

1, 07. 2008

   Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. are wrestling against each other in the race for robot development. They both are unveiling new robots aiming at their practical use in early 2010's. Through the competition between the two major automakers, does the dream of "Astro Boy" come true?

"Asimo" that ushers visitor from receptionist counter to conference room

Asimo is capable of carrying something to drink to the table
Asimo is capable of carrying something to drink to the table

   The human-shaped robot developed by Toyota plays the violin. It has a total of 17 joints in its hands and arms, that allow the delicate movements of fingers and hands under the minute control capability of the inbuilt computer. When it was unveiled, it played the march, Pomp and Circumstance, on the violin by pressing on the strings by fingers with different strength and moving the bow dexterously. Toyota is expected to begin a full-scale experiment of the robot aiming at its practical use as a "partner robot" for housework and nursing care. The company is planning to make its robot division one of its core business activities. Katsuaki Watanabe, President of Toyota, said that the next two to three years would be a crucial period of time to break trough toward the commercialization of the robot, indicating that his company is serious about doing so.

   The human-shaped robot "Asimo" unveiled by Honda, in the meantime, is equipped with new functions so that two units of Asimo can cooperate with each other in ushering a visitor from the receptionist counter to a conference room. Asimo has been able in the past only to move with artificial controlled. New Asimo, however, has inbuilt sensors to enable it to grasp the surrounding conditions and react voluntarily in optimum ways. It is capable of to give way by sidestepping if someone walks toward it. Honda is aiming at producing Asimo that can be used as an usher at an office.

   Honda began developing robot that would walk on two legs ahead of other companies in 1986. The company has ever since led others in the field. Asimo has been active as the "face of Honda" by participating in various events, and the company made clear now for the first time when it will make the robot for practical use. Apparently conscious of Toyota's fast catching up with Honda, Tomohiko Kawanabe, executive director at Honda Technology Research Center, stressed that Honda is still ahead of Toyota by saying that it is important to add intelligence to the robot if it is to be put into practical use.

Japan's robot technology is world's top level

   Japan's robot technology is in the top level in the world. Most of the robots put to use in Japan are, however, industrial robots operated at factories and other industrial facilities. According to the Japan Robot Association, the shipments of robots rose to about 600 billion yen in vale in the early 1990's. Since then, however, the value has shown little increase. Practical use of next-generation robots that would coexist with people in ordinary life are wanted.

   The development of the next-generation robots has come to a standstill as Sony Corp. halted the development of "Aibo", the pet robot which was Sony's hit product, at the end of March 2006. As Toyota, which took over the robot engineers from Sony, launched major effort in the development of robots, Honda is accelerating its efforts. The "birthday" of Astro Boy in the cartoon, April 7, 2003, has gone behind and there are still challenges to meet for the production of robots for practical use. The competition between Toyota and Honda has in itself the possibility of making the dream of Astro Boy come true.

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