HONDA is the world’s leading motorcycle maker and one of the biggest in cars too.
It also makes jet aircraft, plus a vast range of power equipment — even lawnmowers.
But the Japanese giant has just announced a massive new strategy that looks beyond the automotive industry to other areas.
Honda has revealed plans for its first electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, along with new robotic advances — and is hoping to help bring sustainable life to The Moon.
“Honda eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft will make mobility in the sky more accessible for people,” Honda says.
Its innovations arm, will be leading the effort on “outside-the-box research” that will bring about new value for people.
It plans to achieve this by expanding the potential of mobility into the third dimension, then the fourth dimension, “which defies the constraints of time and space, and ultimately into outer space.”
The eVTOL chopper uses eight propellers to rise from the ground, then two pusher props and a wing structure — to fly forward.
Passengers sit in a pod suspended from the structure to which the eight propellers are mounted.
Power comes from a hybrid-electric setup that incorporates a turbine engine to keep the batteries charged.
On pure electricity the Honda hopper can go 160km, but with the turbine going it can fly for up to 640km.
“Adoption of the hybrid power unit enables the extension of range, which will enable Honda eVTOL to provide inter-city (city-to-city) transportation, where the market size is expected to grow in the future,” Honda said.
“Honda will create a new ‘mobility ecosystem’ featuring the eVTOL at its core, connected with mobility products on the ground.”
The mobility products on the ground appear to be wheeled, autonomous transport pods, though not much about those has been revealed.
A video shows a guy on Cape Cod who has a meeting in New York City, so he summons a Honda mobility product to his door.
It takes him to Cape Cod Airport, where he boards his Honda eVTOL aircraft for the short ride into the city.
And he’s back at Cape Cod in time for dinner.
“In addition to clean operation realised by electrification technologies, eVTOL features safety at a level equivalent to that of commercial passenger airplanes via its simple structure and decentralised propulsive system and quietness due to 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.
“Because of such features, the development race for eVTOL aircraft is getting increasingly vigorous.”
However, all-electric eVTOL aircraft face a range issue due to limited battery capacity, so their realistic area of operation is confined to intra-city transportation (within a city).
Then there’s robots like ASIMO.
Honda has been continuously working on robotics research, including the research and development of its two-legged robot ASIMO.
As a part of next-generation robotics, Honda is pursuing development with a view for the practical applications of its original avatar robot to expand the range of human ability — virtually without the constraints of time and place.
Called Honda Avatar Robot, the Avatar in the name means the robot can be somewhere else and you could control it from your home or office.
Or even from your Honda helicopter?
Right now research robots are working on opening a can of Coke and twisting the lid off a jar — but future uses are limitless.
One possible application is as a medical presence on scene to render aid to heart attack victims, or others in need of a doctor.
A medical professional could go online and then examine the patient via the avatar robot.
And what about space travel?
As momentum for expanding the range of human activities outside the Earth continues to grow, Honda has begun initiatives to strive for the expansion of human activities and development on the lunar surface.
It is said there is water on The Moon and various possibilities for the use of this water are starting to attract attention.
Honda is conducting a joint research with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) with a goal to build a circulative, renewable energy system on the lunar surface.
To do this is is leveraging fuel cell technologies and high differential pressure water electrolysis technologies that it has amassed.
Honda is expecting to apply a number of its core technologies to develop remotely controlled robots for use on the lunar surface, which minimise the risks astronauts face and enable people to virtually enjoy the experience of being on The Moon.
This includes multi-fingered robotic hand technology and AI-supported remote control technology being developed for the Honda Avatar Robot and the highly-responsive torque control technology for collision mitigation.
To get to The Moon, and presumably back, Honda is also working on reusable rockets, for which there is a market demand.
“To address this issue, Honda is developing a small rocket with a goal to use it as a launch vehicle for small low-earth orbit satellites.
Moreover, it is conducting research to make its rocket ‘reusable’ by enabling at least some of the rocket components to land back on earth after launch.
“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,” Honda R&D president, Keiji Ohtsu, said.