Honda robot spices up Insight launch in Europe

GENEVA Tue Mar 3, 2009 6:35pm EST

Honda's humanoid robot ''Asimo'' unveils the new Honda Insight hybrid car during the first media day of the 79th Geneva Car Show at the Palexpo in Geneva March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Honda's humanoid robot ''Asimo'' unveils the new Honda Insight hybrid car during the first media day of the 79th Geneva Car Show at the Palexpo in Geneva March 3, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Valentin Flauraud

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GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - Don't tell the boss, but Honda Motor Co may have managed to successfully replace its chief executive with a humanoid robot.

At least, that is, to show off the latest addition to Honda's car line-up at the Geneva auto show on Tuesday.

Like virtually all other carmakers, Honda is looking to save cash anywhere it can as plummeting vehicle sales hammer profits.

So instead of calling a press conference with the top brass attending, which is common practice at international motor shows, Japan's No.2 automaker employed its four-feet-tall robot Asimo to introduce the Insight hybrid, which will go on sale in Europe this month.

"I'm really interested in hybrid technology," the bubble-headed robot said in a boyish voice after being introduced by a Honda spokesman at the company's booth at the show.

Asimo, who normally resides in a studio in Brussels, is scheduled to do several shows a day when the Geneva auto show opens to the public later this week.

"It was cheaper than flying the CEO over from Tokyo for the show," said Shigeki Endo, a spokesman for Honda.

Another spokesman said both the Insight hybrid car and Asimo were "the result of the dream and hard work" of engineers at Honda, which is looking to make a business out of selling humanoid robots one day to assist the elderly or do simple work around the office, such as distributing mail.

During a 20-minute presentation for journalists Asimo fetched two green teas and stood diligently by the Insight on the stage as the spokesman chatted with an engineer about the merits of Honda's first low-cost hybrid car.

After some specifications were rattled off including the car's top speed of 189 km (117 miles) per hour, Asimo waved both hands in a plea for attention.

"I also run on batteries, and my top speed is impressive too," he said.

When Asimo was invited to perform, the robot walked to the front of the stage, loosened up his knees and ankles and dashed across the stage at 6 km/hour -- a record for his kind.

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