If the horse is not humanity's favorite animal, it should be, as it has served us far better than any other domesticated animal. It has been the predominant form of personal transport for the last millennia, has done more work for us than any animal, and its mastery became the fundamental military technology which helped Genghis Khan build the biggest empire in history. Indeed, Honda's choice of the horse as a metaphor for the type of vehicle we will be driving a hundred years hence is incredibly apt.
The horse fits perfectly with our perception of reliable, inventive and loyal companions, as modern media has given us many role models for the concept - from Black Beauty to Mister Ed, and dozens of iconic action equines such as the Lone Ranger's Silver, Hopalong Cassidy's Topper, The Rifleman's Razor and Roy Roger's Trigger.
The Intelligent Horse is very smart as it is set "several hundred years" in the future. Artificial intelligence, voice recognition and even thought recognition will no doubt be far more advanced then, than they now are.
Honda has already released details of its mind-control research and that technology will almost certainly play a role in automobiles of the future. If you had difficulty with the concept of drive-by-wire, where the car interprets steering, brake and accelerator inputs and acts accordingly, rest assured there will be far more computer power in the car of the future, and thinking of your vehicle as being more like a trusty steed than the automobile we knew for the last century will be both comforting and appropriate.
Artificial intelligence research has already been underway for many years and there have been several attempts to develop a suitable personality for a car, most notably Nissan's Pivo II and Toyota's POD and PM Concept, and Toyota already holds patents on cars that show their feelings (and yours).
Honda's Intelligent Horse uses artificial intelligence to develop the personality of the car into a cross between a personal assistant and the rider/driver's companion, with presumably quite a few autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies which sense the environment and make decisions based on what it perceives.
Going forward, Honda will undoubtedly play a major role in the future of personal transport. It may not have invented the motorcycle but Honda was the first to make it reliable enough for the masses. Its marketing was largely responsible for popularizing motorcycles as a form of transport and it has been the world's foremost manufacturer of motorcycles for half a century.
Honda's cars have been world class for decades and it has had robust R&D in place for many years in the areas of hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles, and even home fuel cell infrastructure, with that R&D now beginning to come to market.
It commits such a large percentage of its turnover to R&D, and has done so for fifty years, that it has invested trillions of yen in research on robotics, AI and a host of technologies which have yet to become mainstream, but will become an integral part of personal transport in the future.
Its personal transport concepts, such as the ingenious electric U3-X (the wheel it uses is an engineering masterpiece), 3R-C three-wheel urban EV and its walking assist and bodyweight support devices indicate a deep understanding of what the world will need a decade or more from now.
So the concept of using advanced technologies to replicate and extend the personality and functionality of the horse a few hundred years into the future, gave Honda a wonderful platform to explore - part sci-fi and part technology-crystal-ball-gazing.
The biggest difference between the horse and the intelligent horse are the legs - gone are those wonderfully adept but delicate horse legs and in their place are four wheels comprising 10 composite legs with hard-wearing hoof-like tips on each, designed to surefootedly negotiate anything the terrain might throw at it.
We've seen such intelligence framed inside cats, dogs, seals, humanoids but never before as a horse and although little furry animals might have cuteness on their side, the horse's additional virtues of reliably carrying and hard working loyalty and hard working sit perfectly.
Artificial intelligence research is already well advanced in Japan in the area of companion robots, for the elderly and sick, and also as advanced computer interfaces - as we are currently seeing with Apple's new voice-operated, intelligent assistance iPhone interface. Expertise in the Computer Human Interface arena is already vitally important for consumer electronics manufacturers and will become moreso in the future.
The association with man's first form of personal transport is far from skin deep, with the bio-mimicry extending to all levels, the skeleton-like all-terrain chassis which is made up of lightweight, high-strength bones, to its artificial personality.
Honda's is forecasting that three key elements which will emerge in the near future which will enable products such as the Intelligent Horse to be produced: local production, artificial intelligence and additive technology.
It predicts that nanotechnology will give eventually give everybody the power to produce material resources and parts locally, so the IH is actually produced locally wherever it is needed in a kind of distributed manufacturing process. If a horse breaks a leg, it's game over. In the case of the IH, should one of the ten legs at each corner be damaged, it is expected that you would create a new leg to replace it.
Additive technology is a revolutionary attempt to produce very small or especially very large parts in a more efficient way to save weight and resources while improving the strength and flexibility of the product. The IH vehicle combines both the character and simplicity of a horse with futuristic ideas of how structural, safety and technological innovation might play out.
The Design Challenge has only been around eight years, but has assumed an instant credibility as Los Angeles has the world's highest concentration of automotive design studios, with almost all of the major automakers from North America, Europe and Asia having a presence there.
Design Los Angeles provides a global automotive design forum surrounding the auto show and the design challenge is a place where trends and technologies and new thought is discussed. More than 500 designers attended last year's event.
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