Interview with Masato Hirose -- "Falling down, getting up, and walking on"

Interview with Masato Hirose

Apr 9, 2001

Masato Hirose
Manager and Chief Engineer of ASIMO at Honda R&D Co., Ltd.'s Wako Research Center

Hirose is the inventor of ASIMO, a humanoid robot launched on November 20, 2000, by Honda Motor Co., Ltd. He was engaged in the design of automated drafting instruments and other items at a machine tool manufacturer, but left the company to join Honda Motor Co., Ltd. in July 1986. Shortly thereafter, he became engaged in robot development, a field in which Honda had only just started research at that time. From around 1990, he played the leading role as the group leader in the robot development. Born on February 7, 1956, Hirose is 46 years old. His home city is in Tochigi Prefecture ASIMO is 120cm in height and weighs 43kg, the size of an elementary school first-grader, small enough to operate in the living space of an average household and to encourage a sense of affection towards the robot.

--In autumn 2000, two humanoid robots - Honda's ASIMO and Sony's SDR-3X - were released consecutively, giving one the feeling that a new age was dawning. Were there any exchange of information and personnel between Honda and Sony on the robot development?

Hirose: Yes, there were some interchanges. In fact, I even had a chance to visit the research office of AIBO. I had seen sketches of humanoid robots in some of the materials Sony showed me earlier, and I had thought that it wouldn't be long before they would come up with a humanoid robot. My impression on seeing Sony's humanoid robot was that they had finally done it.The movement of Sony's robot didn't particularly astound me, but I must admit that I was quite surprised when I saw it break into apara-paradance. I was amazed to see the robot move so quickly and smoothly. Anyway, I certainly do welcome robots debuting from other companies.

--What brought you to begin the development of a humanoid robot?

Hirose: I applied for Honda's offer of employment I saw on a newspaper and joined Honda R&D Co., Ltd., in July 1986. On my second day at Honda, the managing director came up to me and told me that I was to work on robot development. Honda is a company of mobility, as in motorcycles and automobiles. Knowing this, I had naturally assumed that I would be in charge of developing these kinds of products, and so I was quite surprised to hear that, to be honest. On top of that, my mission was not to build a simple robot, but what they had called an "Astro Boy" - looking back, I think they gave the name probably to set distinctions to what they wanted me to develop was a humanoid robot and not a robot for industrial use. In this sense, I do not think they wanted me to develop a real "Astro Boy" word for word.

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