Honda's ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix with Honda F1 drivers Jensen Button and Rubens Barichello
Honda’s ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix with Honda F1 drivers Jensen Button and Rubens Barichello. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Paul Williams

Montreal, Quebec – The 2007 Canadian Grand Prix was notable for several reasons, not the least of which were rookie Lewis Hamilton’s first Grand Prix win, Robert Kubica’s terrifying crash (he was fine!) and the celebrated flattening of a “beaver” by Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson.

The event was also noteworthy for the success of the Honda World exhibit, located at the entrance to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where more than 40,000 people stopped by to meet and greet Honda’s diminutive ambassador of safety, advanced technology and the environment.

That would be ASIMO, the most advanced humanoid robot on the planet.

Standing a mere 130 centimetres (51 in.) tall, ASIMO walks, talks, runs, climbs stairs, waves its arms with an eerie resemblance to human motion, and inexplicably causes most women to giggle and swoon in its presence.

Yes, ASIMO is also the most advanced cute humanoid robot on the planet.

You may wonder why Honda, a car company, would be interested in humanoid robots at all. The answer is that the Honda Motor Company does a lot more than build cars. In addition to family sedans and compact coupes, it also builds everything from lawn mowers to motorcycles, ATVs, trucks, personal watercraft, generators, race cars and jet planes. And Honda considers itself to be a world leader in innovative technology and advanced robotics.

Honda's ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix
Honda’s ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix. Click image to enlarge

Significantly, the company also has a tradition of leadership in relation to social and environmental issues. For example, the company’s Civic CVCC met emissions objectives three years ahead of time back in 1972, and it was the first to market a hybrid car (the Insight) in North America. ASIMO factors into that tradition by initially being designed as a helper for people confined to a bed or wheelchair.

That goal continues, but since the development program for ASIMO began in 1986 (early versions of the robot were called P2 and P3, and were much bigger), the ASIMO’s role has expanded to that of champion for the environmental and safety standards that Honda has historically promoted.

Arguably, Honda’s past achievements and leadership in this area have been overlooked by consumer interest in other aspects of vehicle ownership (the company’s slogan in the 1960s was “Blue skies for children,” which was truly progressive, when you think about it, but likely irrelevant to most consumers at the time).

Honda's ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix with Honda F1 driver Rubens Barichello
Honda’s ASIMO robot at the Canadian Grand Prix with Honda F1 driver Rubens Barichello. Click image to enlarge

But now, with a heightened awareness and concern for the environment over the past few years, the expansion of ASIMO’s portfolio is timely and fortuitous.

Indeed, the company was named the “Greenest Automaker” for the fourth consecutive time by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Fortune Magazine named Honda one of the “10 Green Giants,” companies that have gone beyond what the law requires to operate in an environmentally responsible manner.

A big part of ASIMO’s role, therefore, is public relations. He (sorry, It) seems ideally suited to present a face of technology that can be responsible, fun, innovative and inspirational.

After all, if Honda can develop something as optimistic, friendly and, okay, cute as ASIMO, then maybe that’s a company with which consumers would like to be associated when making their automotive purchases.

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