Honda Robot Serves Tea, Pushes Mail Carts

The walking, childlike robot from Honda Motor Co. can now serve tea, push a mail cart and gallop along at twice its previous pace — the latest in the Japanese automaker's quest to replicate human movement.

The 51-inch talk, bubble-headed robot named Asimo has already shown it can jog, walk up stairs, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations. But in a demonstration Monday at Honda's Tokyo head office, a new version of the robot showed off new skills its maker hopes will make the robot more handy around the office.

Honda illustrated how Asimo might serve as a receptionist of the future. Equipped with a sensor that can read microchips in identification cards, the robot recognized a woman approaching from behind, and turned to greet her by name.

It then demonstrated further potential as a host by taking a tray of coffee cups from the woman with its own hands and carrying it to a nearby table where it set the tray down for imaginary guests. It also pushed a four-wheeled cart around on stage.

Later, Asimo — whose name is a play on the Japanese word for "leg" or "ashi" — sprinted back and forth for reporters at 4 miles per hour, double its previous gait of 2 mph. The new technique demonstrates improved balancing technology because both the robot's feet are airborne at the same time in mid-stride, Honda said.

Honda began dabbling with humanoid robots in 1987 and now has 40 Asimos worldwide.

The company plans to start using Asimo's new receptionist functions at Honda offices early next year. The new robot is also available for lease for 20 million yen ($170,000) a year.