--Were you any way perplexed when you were told to develop humanoid robots?
Hirose: No, not especially. Before joining Honda, I was engaged in designing automated drafting instruments at a machine tool manufacturing company. Thus when I was told that I would be working on robot development, I thought it would be something similar to what I had been doing, because be it an instrument or a robot, it is something that moves. Honda had only just recently started research and development of robots at that time, and the only thing in our office were some desks, chairs and several books. We started off with an entirely clean slate.
We must take the lead
--What was Honda's objective in developing a humanoid robot?
Hirose: The underlying hope was that conducting robot R&D would enable us to accumulate such kinds of technology as control technology, environmental sensing technology and material technology. No one would talk about selling robots commercially or set this field as one of the company's profitable businesses. Our team's goal was to conduct basic research, and the top management attentively made arrangements so that we would not feel constrained by money worries. Mr. Kawamoto [Nobuhiko Kawamoto, Honda R&D Co., Ltd. President and CEO from 1990 through to 1998] once told me, "Researchers shouldn't have to think about money. Instead, they should devote themselves in research and development." To this end, the company would only give us the proposition to develop "Astro Boy" and freely let us work out all other tasks by our own will.
--Which do you think is more of a blessing for engineers: Being involved in a basic research project for the future or working on a project that would directly link to business?
Hirose: Both are rewarding for engineers. At the former company I worked for, I experienced to sell the product that myself had manufactured. Of course, it is quite thrilling to be able to introduce to the world something that myself had devoted so much time and energy in the development.On the other hand, it is also a great joy to assume responsibilities from my own company for working on something like robots that few other companies have embarked on. Such opportunities do not come along these days. Above all, I adhered to the idea of making a two-footed robot walk. What kind of research other companies and universities were conducting was almost not a matter to me. By all means, I did read and refer to books from time to time, but doing exactly what someone else has done before is like retaking an exam. You cannot move ahead of someone by just following his footsteps, because you would not be able to see the road ahead. "Hold the torch yourself" is a saying that my seniors at Honda taught me -- you cannot create new things unless you take the lead