Car manufacturers know that mobility is undergoing a process of transformation, and many of them are determined to change the way they work from top to bottom. This is the case with Honda.
The Japanese automaker is increasing its research and development spending in new futuristic areas that include an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft – also known as flying car, avatar robot with a goal to expand the range of human ability and a new challenge in the field of outer space. The automaker will invest $45 billion (5 trillion yen) on R&D over the next six years.
According to Honda, these segments are a natural extension of its core business. To make mobility in the skies more accessible for people, Honda will develop eVTOL aircraft by taking advantage of a wide range of Honda’s core technologies. Honda will leverage its electrification technologies and develop Honda eVTOL equipped with a gas turbine hybrid power unit to increase range and enable user-friendly inter-city travel.
In addition, the eVTOL will also achieve safety levels equivalent to that of commercial passenger airplanes realized by its simple structure and decentralized propulsive system, and quietness due to the relatively small diameter of rotors. This makes it possible for eVTOL to take off and land in the middle of a city without causing noise issues. Honda will strive to create new value for people by establishing a “mobility ecosystem” featuring eVTOL aircraft at its core, coordinated and integrated with mobility on the ground, including cars, bikes, and driverless vehicles.
In the field of robotics, where the manufacturer has the experience, the plan is to develop a new avatar robot with the goal to expand the range of human ability virtually without the constraints of time and place. These robots would have a screen in place of the face for remote meetings. With the Honda Avatar Robot, the user can perform tasks and experience things without being there in person, including the realistic sense of handling objects remotely.
It will be equipped with a multi-fingered hand, an application of Honda robotics technologies, and Honda’s original AI-supported remote control function. Therefore, Honda strived for an avatar robot that is capable of using its multi-fingered hand to make full use of tools designed for human use and performs complex tasks quickly and accurately based on the AI-supported and more intuitive control by the user.
With a view to putting the Honda Avatar Robot into practical use in the 2030s, Honda is pursuing development with a goal to conduct technology demonstration testing before the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024.
Lastly, Honda is hoping to research and develop a small, reusable rocket by applying Honda’s core technologies such as combustion, fluid, control, and guidance technologies. It plans to develop a small rocket with the goal to use it as a launch vehicle for small low-earth-orbit satellites.
Honda is conducting joint research with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) with a goal to build a circulative renewable energy system on the lunar surface by leveraging fuel cell technologies and high differential pressure water electrolysis technologies. By building such a circulative renewable energy system, Honda will strive to contribute to a wide range of human activities on the lunar surface. In addition, Honda will seek to apply its multi-fingered robotic hand, AI-supported remote control function, and highly responsive torque control technologies to remotely-controlled robots which will perform tasks on the lunar surface.
“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., Ltd. “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.”