Honda's human-shaped robot can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot, pour a drink and even almost “think” on its own.

Honda's demonstration of the revamped “Asimo” on Tuesday was not only to prove that the bubble-headed childlike machine was more limber and a bit smarter.

It was a way to try to answer some critics that Asimo, first shown in 2000, had been of little practical use so far, proving to be nothing more than a glorified toy and cute showcase for the Honda Motor Co. brand.

Honda President Takanobu Ito told reporters some of Asimo's technology was used to develop a robotic arm in just six months with the intention of helping with the nuclear crisis in northeastern Japan.

The mechanical arm can open and close valves at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which went into meltdown after the March tsunami, according to Honda. The automaker is working with the utility behind the problem plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., to try to meet demands to bring the plant under control.

Ito acknowledged that the first idea was to send in Asimo to help out, but that was not possible because the robot cannot maneuver in rubble, and its delicate computer parts would malfunction in radiation.

But in Tuesday's demonstration, Asimo was able to walk without falling over 2 centimeter padded bumps on the floor.

It can also now jog faster than it did in 2005, pushing better with its toes so its run was smoother and not as jerky. Ito said Asimo had developed autonomous artificial intelligence so that it could potentially manoeuver itself through crowds of people, without remote control.

Keywords: AsimoHonda Asimorobotics

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