I once had a dream that Asimo, Honda’s cute humanoid robot, rocked me to sleep – then strangled me. My subconscious and a good bit of therapy could probably explain the strangling part, but Asimo popped up in one of my dreams because it’s such a common image for the entire field of robotics. It’s iconic.
Asimo was first unveiled in 2000, and has made many appearances since, igniting the imagination about what human-like robots will be able to do for us in the future. But no more. On June 28, Honda announced that production of the Asimo would end. He’s headed to the scrapheap. This is his eulogy.
Asimo, whose name stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, took his first stuttering steps into the national consciousness in October of 2000. Honda had been working on an advanced robot since the 1980s, but the sleek Asimo—with its fingers, wobbly legs, and big smile—captured the imagination in way its blocky ancestors didn’t.
Since its introduction, Asimo has delighted the world by falling down the stairs, played soccer and tended bar, and danced like an awkward teen at the Homecoming dance. Honda’s little robot-that-could was mocked on South Park, delighted morning talk show hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan, and played soccer with President Barack Obama.
The seventh-generation Asimo, produced in 2011, will be the last. The research team is moving on to other projects, and will incorporate the lessons of Asimo’s life into different robots and vehicles. His legacy will live on, but folded into other, less-personable machines.
Honda designed the little robot to show the world that humans could have companionable relationships with machines. It has a face and a personality, and Honda always pitched it as a droid that would help the elderly and take care of the sick. Asimo was indicative of an era of hope around technology that we’re leaving behind now. Today’s robots are faceless, frightening monstrosities.