This is not the first time I'm talking about Asimo, the robot developed by Honda . (Check former columns at "Asimo: Honda's New Bipedal Robot" or "Honda releases a more intelligent Asimo humanoid robot".)
Today, here is an interview with Yoshiaki Sakagami, chief engineer of Honda R&D Co., who was responsible for the Asimo project. (Caution: the link to this interview is not always up and running)
Describing Asimo as a "multifunctional machine to enrich human life," Sakagami, 45, hopes that the humanoid robot "will become able to help people -- especially wheelchair users -- move around."
Standing 120 centimeters tall and weighing 52 kilograms, the new Asimo can only carry items weighing less than 500 grams -- such as a bouquet of flowers. The next stage in the robot's development is to give it more "muscle power," Sakagami said.
But Yoshiaki Sakagami is not only a brilliant engineer, he's a man with a conscience.
During the process of developing the robot, Sakagami began worrying about the fact that advanced technology has become too close to human beings.
"I am worried that people empathize too much with robots. I especially feel great concerns when I see children -- who don't even understand human society -- interacting with robots," he said. For instance, children do not know what makes robots move. "I am afraid that they do not recognize the border between the real and virtual world," he warned.
He also didn't want to offend anyone.
Sakagami agrees with the oft-quoted belief that the concept of robots in Japan differs from that in Europe and the United States, a difference that is said to spring from differences in religious beliefs.
Due to such concerns, when Honda Motor Co. started developing Asimo, it asked the Vatican whether the production of humanoid robots would be acceptable for Christians. The Vatican's response was moderate, showing a full understanding toward the company's project.
If Asimo can gently offer a bouquet of flowers, I wish I'd have one at home for Valentine's Day.
Source: Fumiko Endo, The Yomiuri Shimbun, January 1, 2003
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