Honda’s Research and Development Robotics program has been building robots since the 1980s. However, it became forever enshrined in popular culture in the early 2000s, when its autonomous, two-legged robot, Asimo, made its first appearance. Asimo, capable of walking, running, climbing stairs, opening doors, recognising basic human behaviour (such as being-offered a handshake) and serving drinks, along with its quirky, astronaut-like appearance, became something of a curiosity to the public. Honda have exhibited Asimo at a great number of scientific venues, and the little robot is considered one of the greatest advances in robotics for in recent years.
However, it looks as-though Honda wishes to use its automatons to break-into a more commercial market. The latest revelation from the company, the Miimo, is set for commercial sale, and is seen as a challenge, by Honda Robotics, to the claim that their Asimo machine has no current, practical use. The Miimo, resembling the popular Roomba (a programmable automated vaccum-cleaner), consists of a ‘shell’-like casing, beneath which the Miimo trundles on wheels with auto-adjusting suspension. Its purpose is that of a lawnmower, and it possesses three whirling blades which trim the grass, a few millimetres at a time. The shavings fall to the ground where they rapidly decay and serve as a natural fertiliser, and the machine makes multiple, randomised passes over the lawn, gradually shaving-down the grass in a manner which looks pleasant and does not damage the land. The blades are backed by a small but powerful fan, which sucks the grass towards the scything cutter, and helps to cut-back on missed-spots.
The machine, available only in Europe, is fully automated, and operates within boundaries set via a small wire running along (or beneath) the perimeter of the affected area. This wire, as well as the Miimo itself, can be delivered and installed free of charge, upon purchase of the product. When its job is done, it detects any sort of malfunction, or is simply running low on power, the Miimo will return to its charging-dock of its own accord. It also features an advanced anti-theft system, whereby anybody attempting to lift the Miimo (operational or not) will prompt it to instantly shut-down and lock-up and trigger a high-pitched alarm, after which a special pin-code issued to the owner is required to reset the machine.
Honda’s reasons for targeting the European market specifically are that, in Summer, it is often too hot to mow one’s own lawn, and that Europe has a large proportion of elderly people living in detached or semi-detached houses, for whom the task of performing arduous garden-work may be difficult. It is likely that the initial release is just a market test, and that stocks will hit North America and other foreign markets soon enough.