Today I have a meeting with a robot. I take the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to Aoyama-itchōme Station. My destination is the Honda Cafe in the Honda Aoyama Building. I arrive an hour early, so I decide to wander for a bit. I head to the NHK building but it doesn’t look like it’s for tourists, so I leave. I walk the length of Aoyama Cemetery. I kill time in the park. Eventually, it is 3 o’clock, robot time!
I enter the Honda café. The ground floor of the building features a small stage and a display of cars and motorcycles. As I wander around, every member of staff greets me with a cheery, “Hello,” and an overly practised smile. The Honda Aoyama Building is free of charge to enter. There is a small shop selling surprisingly cheap drinks, the coffee is just ¥200 a cup, and hot too!
Public Exhibition Number One
I take a seat five minutes before the exhibition is to begin. I am the only person here that isn’t wearing a business suit. There are thirty chairs, but more than half are empty. A factory construction line of a car being built is shown on a large screen. I wait eagerly for it to end. When it finally does, a woman appears, a door opens, and a strange machine drives itself onto the centre of the stage.
The women speaks only in Japanese, but thankfully the display screen features English text. What I am seeing is a new Honda product called, “Uni-Cub.” The Uni-Cub is a mobility device that travels at 6km/h. The machine drives around the stage for a while, before the woman giving the talk takes a seat on the device to demonstrate its ability.
I am not sure how she is controlling it, she just appears to tilt her body in a general direction, and the thing moves. It is quite impressive and I want one. I take a few photographs, but the other people here don’t seem to pay it much interest; I imagine they are only here for the main event. After the Uni-Cub is paraded for a while, the woman drives off the stage and into a doorway, before disappearing into the darkness. The video screen displays some information about the Uni-Cub. Two minutes later, ASIMO appears.
Partly Mechanical, Hardly Human
ASIMO is an acronym that stands for Advanced Step in Innovative MObility. He is a humanoid robot, with Artificial Intelligence. ASIMO was created as a way to help people. A way for robots and humans to coexistence in harmony. A concept drawing appears on the screen showing a robot carrying boxes up some stairs. A helper robot. It is all part of the vision that Honda have; their advertising slogan being, ‘The Power of Dreams’. Unfortunately, The Power of Dreams doesn’t quite stretch to seating. The chair I am sitting in during this demonstration is the most uncomfortable seat I have ever experienced.
ASIMO shows off some of his skills. He can dance, stand on one leg, jump with both feet off the ground, and can run, fast. His walking speed is 7km/h, which is slightly faster than the Uni-Cub. I learn that they are both built using the same technology. ASIMO weighs just 50 kilograms and stands 130 centimetres tall.
The presentation continues in Japanese. Honda started to build robotic technology that is useful to people back in 1986. The earlier models E1, E2, and E3 were focused on creating a robot that could walk like a human being. E4, E5, and E6 were focused on stair climbing. Next, a body, arms, and a head were added and Honda’s first humanoid robot, P1, was born. Further development lead to P2 and P3, where they focused on minor improvements and automation. Finally, in October 2000, ASIMO was unveiled for the first time.
A Wish called Honda
After some more talking and things on the screen, ASIMO decides to sing for us. ASIMO has the incredible ability to communicate in sign language, and today he sings for us his original sign language song, ‘Making Dreams Come True’.
“The sky looks lovely today, The clouds flying lightly above.
I wonder, will tomorrow’s sky will [sic] be just as nice?
And how will our sky look in the future?
Let’s cherish our dreams today, and fulfil our dreams tomorrow.
Let’s combine our strength, and achieve our dreams together!”
After his song, ASIMO waves at us and says, “Thank you.” There is then an opportunity for me to have my photograph taken with him. He stands and makes human movements with his head and occasionally speaks. He seems to be able to recognise if people are Japanese or not. When a Japanese person goes up to have a photograph taken, he addresses them in Japanese. When I go up, he addresses me in English. “Smile, smile,” he says, “3… 2… 1…” His English voice sounds like Pinocchio, the Disney character.
The whole presentation lasted a total of twenty-five minutes. I am pleased to have finally seen one of the most advanced robots in existence. After the presentation, I check out the small souvenir shop. It sells ASIMO stuffed toys, key rings, and other assorted junk.
On the train ride back to Asakusa, I think about the future of robotics. I really hope that someday in the near future, I will be cruising around on my Uni-Cub with my very own ASIMO running alongside me.
Weekday showtimes: 13:30, 15:00, and 16:30
Weekend and public holidays: 11:00, 13:30, 15:00, and 16:30
All performances at 16:30 can be enjoyed in English.
Address: Honda Welcome Plaza, 2-1-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo