September 30, 2021
Honda Motor Co. has announced the technology development direction the company is pursuing while leveraging its core technologies. The direction will lead to the fulfillment of Honda’s 2030 Vision of serving people worldwide with the “joy of expanding their life’s potential.”
The new initiatives include an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, an avatar robot with the goal of expanding the range of human ability, and a new challenge in the field of outer space. Honda said the new initiatives are made possible by core technologies Honda has amassed to date, including technologies around combustion, electrification, control, and robotics.
Honda Avatar Robot
Honda said it will develop an avatar robot with the goal to “expand the range of human ability virtually without the constraints of time and place/space.” The robot (pictured, right) will be equipped with a multi-fingered hand, an application of Honda robotics technologies, and its original AI-supported remote control function. The goal of the robot is to be put into practical use in the 2030s, with a development goal to demonstrate testing before the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024.
The company has been continuously working on robotics research, including the development of its bi-pedal robot, ASIMO. As part of the next generation of Honda robotics, the company is developing practical applications of Honday’s original avatar robot.
“The greatest merit of an avatar robot, which can act as a second self of the user, is that the user can perform tasks and experience things without being there in person, including the realistic sense of handling objects remotely,” said Honda. The company is striving for an avatar robot that can use its multi-fingered hand to make full use of tools designed for human use, and perform tasks quickly and accurately based on the AI-supported and more intuitive control by the user.
Honda said it has realized a multi-fingered hand with the ability to both delicately pick up a small object with the fingertips and the strength to open a tight jar lid, at the level of the human hand. It added this has long been a challenge in the field of robotics research. In order to enable the hand to grasp an object smoothly in one sequence of moves and handle a tool with precise control of force, the company is working to advance its original AI-supported remote control function.
The company added it is currently working on downsizing the hardware and further improve precision hand movements, including grasping and manipulation.
The new Honda eVTOL (concept, top) will leverage Honda’s electrification technologies for its gas turbine hybrid power unit. This will enable the extension of range, which will enable the eVTOL to provide inter-city (city-to-city) transportation, a market size expected to grow in the future. The company plans to create a new “mobility ecosystem” that features Honda eVTOL at its core, connected with mobility products on the ground.
“In addition to clean operation realized by electrification technologies, eVTOL features safety at a level equivalent to that of commercial passenger airplanes realized by its simple structure and decentralized propulsive system and quietness due to relatively small diameter of rotors,” the company said. Because of the quietness, an eVTOL can take off and land in the middle of a city without causing noise issues. However, all-electric eVTOL aircraft face a range issue, due to limited battery capacity, keeping the area limited to inside-the-city transportation.
Honda said to address the issue, it will leverage its electrification technologies and develop an eVTOL equipped with a gas turbine hybrid power unit, which it will develop based on its experience with combustion, aerodynamics and control technologies. The company did not announce any dates associated with testing or availability of this vehicle.
Honda outlined several different space technology initiatives, including a circulative renewable energy system and remote-controlled robots on the Moon, and a reusable small rocket that can apply Honda’s core technologies.
Honda said it is conducting a joint research project with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) with the goal of building a circulative renewable energy system on the lunar surface by leveraging fuel cell technologies and differential pressure water electrolysis technologies. By using these technologies along with electricity from renewable energy sources, the system can electrically decompose water and store hydrogen and oxygen. Using those elements, the fuel cells can generate and supply electricity. Oxygen could also be used for people staying in living quarters on the lunar surface, and the hydrogen can be used as fuel for rockets.
The use of remotely controlled robots on the lunar surface will minimize risk for astronauts, and enable people to virtually enjoy the experience of being on the Moon from Earth, Honda said.
The company is also working on developing small rockets, initiated by a proposal made by young Honda engineers who wanted to build a small rocket with its combustion and control technologies. The rocket can be used as a launch vehicle for small low-earth orbit satellites, as well as make them “reusable” by enabling at least some of the rocket components to land back on Earth after the launching. Honda said it will use control and guidance technologies it has amassed through the development of automated driving.
“All of the initiatives we introduced today are for the challenges Honda takes on in new areas, but the underlying passion of Honda to use our technology to make people’s lives more enjoyable remains unchanged,” said Keiji Ohtsu, president and representative director of Honda R&D Co. “Ever since the company’s founding, the wellspring of Honda’s challenges has always been the people at Honda who generate original technologies and ideas. Through the creation of new mobility, Honda will continue striving to change the value people place on mobility and make positive changes to our society.”