For more than 20 years, engineers at Honda have been working on ASIMO, a humanoid robot that today can do many "human-like" functions. The robot runs, walks and turns on smooth or uneven surfaces and can understand and respond to some voice commands. It avoids obstacles and recognizes a few people [source: ASIMO Honda]. Although each version looks more human-like and functions better, a lot goes on inside ASIMO that can't be seen.
Engineers use a variety of special sensors to keep ASIMO "on its toes." An acceleration sensor and a gyroscope sensor work together to help ASIMO maintain its stability and orientation. The sensors report position and speed to the central computer, allowing for adjustments in equilibrium. Floor-surface sensors and ultrasonic sensors enable ASIMO to interact with its surroundings. They distinguish objects that ASIMO encounters and compare this data with maps saved in ASIMO's memory. ASIMO also has joint-angle sensors and six-axis force sensors to help it mimic the sensory abilities of human skin and muscles. At a 2011 science event in Poland, ASIMO demonstrated how these sensors worked together by shaking hands with Japanese Ambassador Yuichi Kusumoto and then serving the ambassador a drink [source: ASIMO News]. Eventually, the artificial intelligence world hopes that sensors like the ones used in ASIMO may stand in for the sensitive touch of human skin to help others [source: Fox].
ASIMO is powered by tiny, yet strong, motors called servo motors. These little gizmos are capable of moving ASIMO's arms and legs to a precise tilt and then shutting down until they receive a new command to move again. The position-sensing device, or digital decoder, is built into the servo and determines whether the motor is positioned correctly. A servo carrying a light load doesn't use very much power. ASIMO's battery power comes from a rechargeable, 51.8 volt lithium-ion battery, weighing in at 13 pounds (5.9 kilograms). The battery is kept in ASIMO's backpack and can be charged onboard or separately.
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