Japan’s Robots: Becoming More Human

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Corporations are making big efforts to advance humanoid robotics technology. The robots have gone from tools that help people to friends that people love. In this article we present some of the best-known examples.

Walking Through Crowded Spaces: Honda’s ASIMO

Photographs and videos courtesy Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Honda Motor developed its robot, ASIMO, for use in people’s living spaces. Its size is big enough so that it can use furniture and tools while remaining small enough to be non-intimidating. Since its 2000 creation, it has seen a steadily increasing range of capabilities thanks to the efforts of Honda engineers. The latest ASIMO model, introduced in 2011, is capable of independent motion, without needing intervention from humans; the robot instead uses input from its sensors to decide where and how it will move next.

Descending from the stage at its first demonstration, the 2011 ASIMO took steps into a space where people were passing back and forth. The robot then displayed its ability to walk through crowded areas, avoiding the people it encounters. Overseas journalists on hand to cover the launch reportedly joked with Honda employees that there must be a human hidden inside.

Size Height 130cm
Width 45cm
Depth 34cm
Weight 48kg
Abilities Max speed 9 km/hr
Operating time 40 mins (while walking)


Places to Meet ASIMO

Suzuka Circuit Land (Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, Japan), Twin Ring Motegi (Motegi, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan), Welcome Plaza on the ground floor of Honda’s headquarters in Aoyama (Tokyo), National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (the Miraikan, Tokyo), and Disneyland (California, United States).

ASIMO assesses the directions that people are travelling in and moves to avoid collisions.


ASIMO grips a flask, takes off the lid, and pours water into a paper cup.

The Singing and Dancing Robot: HRP-4C

Photographs and videos courtesy the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

The HRP-4C is a robot that you might mistake for a human. Engineers at AIST, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, built it based on the measurements of an average young Japanese female. The measurements took into account not just overall dimensions but also the positioning of joints throughout the body. The HRP-4C’s movement is based on data collected with motion capture equipment from actual humans walking and moving their bodies. The robot can also recognize human voices using a built-in microphone and can even engage in conversation.

Judging that a walking humanoid robot wouldn’t have enough commercial value by itself and would be difficult to mass produce, the creators decided to target the entertainment industry and focused on making the shape, movements, and reactions of HRP-4C as close as possible to those of a human. The hope was to develop a robot that could be used in fashion shows and other events. This hope was fulfilled in 2009 when the HRP-4C was unveiled at a show, singing and dancing on stage.

Size Height 158cm
Weight 43 kg (including battery)
Other properties Number of joints 42, including humanlike joints in the hips and lower back to allow natural walking movements


Places to Meet HRP-4C

AIST representative: “None planned at present.”

The HRP-4C unveiling its singing and dancing abilities at the Digital Content Expo 2010. (From the AIST YouTube channel)

Cycling Sibling Robots

Photo courtesy Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

Murata Boy was developed by Murata Manufacturing based on the concept, “Letting our dreams ride on the possibilities of electronics.” The idea was to demonstrate the performance of the company’s electrical components and generate publicity. After Murata Boy’s debut in 2005, the company’s public relations department received inquiries from far and wide asking why there was no Murata Girl. The unicycle-riding “female” counterpart made her debut in 2008. The two robots function as PR characters for the company and have complete personal backgrounds in place, including their birthdays, birthplaces, and hobbies. Murata Boy’s dream is to travel around the world. His motto is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again.” Murata Girl likes to ride her unicycle at the park and her dream is to travel round the world with Murata Boy.
Murata Boy Murata Girl
Size Height 50cm 50cm
Weight About 5 kg About 6 kg
Other properties Movement ability Rides a bike. When it stops, it can balance itself without using its legs. Can ride along a balance beam. Rides a unicycle. Can ride along a balance beam.
Moving parts Neck, arms, legs Neck, legs
Places to Meet Murata Boy and Murata Girl
CEATEC Japan Electronics Exhibition (Makuhari Messe, Chiba Prefecture, Japan), Consumer Electronics Show (Las Vegas, Nevada, United States). The robots also appear at other scientific events where robotics is a theme.
Murata Boy negotiates an S-shaped balance beam.
Murata Girl traverses a balance beam on her unicycle.

video movie tourism Tokyo robot Mie Honda event AIST humanoid ASIMO Suzuka Circuit Disney Land HRP-4C Murata Boy Murata Girl Murata Manufacturing Company CEATEC CES technology exhibition Mie Prefecture Twin Ring Moteg