I am sure some of you have seen the latest Honda advertising campaign, “More Forwards Please” featuring the robot ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility).The robot is real, designed and built by Honda, with a view to eventually selling robots that can assist around the house. All I can say is, it's about time! What have all of the scientists been doing? I remember watching Tomorrows World during the 70s as a boy, transfixed, as Graham Baxter told me about all of the technological wonders that were just around the corner. Well I must confess to feeling somewhat hoodwinked. Where are the personal space ships and rocket back-packs? The house controlled by voice commands, and the complete meal in a pill? Actually, forget the last one, as it would never replace a nice juicy steak. As I recall, Tomorrows World was the show that showed a prototype Compact Disk player. The presenter smeared the disk with jam, wiped it off and it still played perfectly. When in reality, a speck of dust need only needs to float near my CD player and the thing starts to jump or stick.
OK, I cannot hold Tomorrows World totally responsible for the lack of major innovation, but come on; man first landed on the moon in 1969, nearly 40 years ago.
The Honda robot however is a very impressive thing. Standing at 1.2 metres high, he is able to walk and run. The walking function alone took 10 years to design and build, and a further 10 years to refine it. (I guess I can wave goodbye to my personal space ship then) So why have Honda invested, to quote Project Leader Stephen Keeney “considerably less than developing a prototype car”? The simple answer is money, and Honda clearly believes they will be able to sell us these robots although there is no indication of price as yet.
One common item that is in every day use is of course the mobile phone. A phone in your car was something out of a James Bond film. A communication device you kept in your pocket was straight out of Star Trek. But mobile phones of course generate huge amounts of revenues for their operators. My first mobile phone was akin to a house brick painted black. Yet 10 or so years later phones are slim and full of, in my opinion, extra functionality. The games are OK for 10 minutes if you are waiting for a bus. But we have computers and games consoles for that. Likewise, if I want to take photographs, I have a perfectly functioning camera. But of course, the camera is there for us to take pictures and then text them to our friends at a price greater than a standard text cost. So once we had picture messaging, somebody thought it would be a great idea to be able to receive film and TV clips on our phones using a technology called 3G. So new networks were built and the UK government held auctions to sell the licenses. This auction raised £22.6 Billion, paid for by the likes of BT and Hutchinson Telecom. Now I am no economist, but let me get this right. These operators think they will be able to recoup the cost of building a network and buying a license by people paying to download what? Clips of goals scored in football matches and ladies taking their clothes off. I can only assume that their business plans were built around teenage boys!
So back to ASIMO. I am sure we can all think of hundreds of uses for such a robot once it goes on the market; washing up, cleaning, fetching and carrying, the list goes on. However, I have a better plan. In the Top Gear car magazine this month, there was an advertising insert from Honda about ASIMO and some new car models; the rationale is clearly “a company that can build a robot MUST be able to build excellent cars” and they do, I had one once. Anyway, the advertising brochure listed that amongst ASIMOs abilities he can play football. So, my plan is this; the Football Association buys 11 robots, adds some UK-made components (enough to make them English, not Japanese) and we might then have a team capable of winning a tournament, or at least some matches.
No wait, the more I think about it, the English components will probably have a bad effect on our robotic team. They will probably go on strike or simply stop working altogether and begin to rust. When it comes to robots buy Japanese.