Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo

Robot Asimo judges rock-scissors-paper contests
Tanja Aitamurto | June 14th, 2008

Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo has taken another step on its way to become human-like. Actually, make that superhuman-like. Asimo, which resembles a small astronaut, doesn’t only dance, serve coffee and conduct operas, but now can judge rock-paper-scissors contests.

The judging is made possible by Asimo’s new ability to understand three voices shouting at once. This is actually more than a human is able to do: We humans can only focus on one particular sound source at once. The ability to isolate one sound from a noisy background is called the cocktail party effect.
Asimo’s superpower in isolating voices comes from a software called HARK that Japanese researchers have developed. HARK uses eight microphones attached to Asimo’s body and face to spot where each voice is coming from and to isolate the voices from each other. The software records voices, works out how reliably it has isolated the voices, and passes only the reliable voice extracts into Asimo’s speech recognition system to be decoded.

This quality control is a remarkable step, because Asimo’s own speech recognition system can’t isolate voices from a noise. Without a helping software, Asimo’s system would get confused.

Now Asimo can follow and judge three people playing rock-paper-scissors with 70-80 percent’s accuracy. The result is quite good, but the task is quite simple too, as the vocabulary used in rock-paper-scissors contest is small. When the software was used to follow more complicated sentences, the accuracy of the identifying the sentences went down to 30-40 percent.

Asimo has still a way to go before it can be taken to a cocktail party to chat with people. But this stage might not be as far as we think: Asimo might become better partner to party conversations, if the latest results of the studies of brain activity when dealing with the cocktail party effect, can be used in robot developing.
Asimo is one of the world’s most advanced humanoid robots, and it’s ability to isolate voices is a big step towards Honda’s goal to create an advanced humanoid robot, that can work and live among the humans, and to help especially elderly or disadvantaged people. The news of Asimo’s new ability adds up with the other recent news about startups and investors’ interest in robots that seem to prove that robotics is one of the hottest things in hi-tech at the moment.