TOKYO – The voice was slightly halting, childlike. “Welcome to Miraikan, Mr. President, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
President Barack Obama bowed, looking delighted.
His greeter, after all, was a 55-inch-tall, give or take, humanoid robot with the look of a diminutive Star Wars storm trooper.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Obama said, pausing to watch the robot, named ASIMO, perform during a tour of the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
Despite Obama’s background in constitutional law, there’s a presidential geek side that always seems charmed, if not bemused, by technological advances.
Asimo, made by Honda, announced “I can really run fast” before loping toward a soccer ball and informing Obama, “I can kick a soccer ball, too.”
The robot delivered a well-aimed ball at Obama who trapped it neatly with his foot. For its final demonstration, the robot declared, “Recently I have learned how to jump.” It then proceeded to hop, first on one foot, then on two.
Curious, Obama asked Mamoru Mohri, chief executive director of Miraikan, whether the robot was remote controlled. Yes, Mohri replied, but the robot can act autonomously, too.
Obama also witnessed demonstrations by other robots, including one designed by Japanese technicians and partially financed by the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency that was developed to help with disaster response.
“I have to say the robots were a little scary,” he said afterward. “They were too life-like.”