Honda has made good on last month's promise and has taken its 3E Robotics Concepts to CES 2018 in Las Vegas. Designed to assist people with all manner of tasks in the future, the experimental robots are being developed through an "open invitation" approach, where other companies are invited to collaborate on the 3E project to build "multiple devices that work together as a system, enabling people to expand their life's potential."
Honda's 3E vision stands for "Empower, Experience, Empathy," and its CES concepts are designed to showcase how the company sees future systems not only helping people better cope with whatever life throws at them, but also learning from their interactions with people to improve their usefulness and become more empathetic. And the company is looking to have industry partners get involved in that vision by helping to create collaborative systems, rather than proprietary stand-alone bots.
Leading the Empower part of the equation is an autonomous off-roader designed by Honda R&D Americas and dubbed 3E-D18. It's not been developed as a sporty leisure vehicle, but to assist the workforce and comes with a number of work-related attachments, including a multi-purpose tool rail, a digger arm or fruit/vegetable picker, and full robotics package that can be mounted to the top of the vehicle.
The concept robotic vehicle is based on Honda's ATV chassis, but features a four-wheel-drive electric drivetrain powering "virtually indestructible" airless tires. It gets its juice from Honda's Mobile Power Pack, batteries that can be charged in the vehicle or swapped out and charged in a central location.
The developers see the highly maneuverable 3E-D18 as increasing efficiency in search and rescue tasks, or fire fighting, construction and agriculture, helping to keep human exposure to dangerous environments to a minimum. It could also take over mundane or time-consuming tasks, and go on working long after the human workforce has clocked off for the day.
The self-driving vehicle navigates using GPS and vehicle-mounted sensors and Honda imagines it being deployed by operators wearing a smartwatch or using a smartphone/tablet. The video below outlines the potential use scenarios of the D18.
The 3E-B18 concept could also find uses in industry, but has been developed to help people get around with ease and in comfort. A robotic wheelchair of sorts, the platform also takes a variety of attachments for situations like carrying heavy baggage around an airport or taking a stroll (roll?) into town. It could also be fitted with AI sensors for autonomous operation.
This electric concept has a height-adjustable seat that's designed to stay on the level, even if the mobility roller is going up (or down) an incline, and an arm to one side that ends in a control wheel and touch buttons. Honda says that a small turning radius and slim dimensions give it the power to move around in tight spaces, though no figures have been released. And as with the self-driving ATV, the B18 uses the company's Mobile Power Pack.
Honda's 3E-C18 represents the Experience part of its vision, demonstrating a system intended to grow with its user. We first encountered this boxy electric cargo concept at last year's Tokyo Motor Show, where it transported, or auto-followed, booth reps around.
The upper surface of the C18 rises from the body to form a canopy, to be used by street vendors selling their wares perhaps, or maybe a mobile hobby shop. And it has a large display to the front, which can be seen showing numerous expressions in the video below, and its AI brains are intended to learn from its user.
The electric three-wheeler features a tablet-like user interface to the rear, but it can also operate autonomously. And, yes you guessed it, Honda's Mobile Power Pack makes another appearance here.
The final "E" in Honda's vision stands for Empathy, and comes to life in the form of a giant wheeled lightbulb called the 3E-A18. This service robot has been treated to some AI technology to, as Honda puts it, "achieve a mutual empathy with people while providing support for human activities."
The concept moves around using a single omni-directional wheel supported by a stabilizer out back, and is programmed with a range of facial expressions to help it communicate with whomever it encounters, while also sporting an inviting soft-touch exterior designed to encourage physical interaction.
It's been designed to understand the needs of people and offer information and help accordingly, making it a good fit for a job as a museum guide, hotel receptionist, shopping assistant or airport customer service droid.
We've already mentioned Honda's hot-swap battery packs earlier, but the company sees its Mobile Power Packs as being much more than just user replaceable power units. The concept is being presented as a way of storing renewable energy produced during periods of low energy demand, while also making that energy available to its army of assistive robots, and more.
Honda reckons each hot-swappable Power Pack will be a 1 kWh unit, meaning it could also find use powering electric motorcycles and scooters or as an emergency power source during a power out when combined with its wheeled Charge & Supply concept.
The company is also showcasing a battery pack exchange concept at CES, which it envisions being located on city street corners, allowing folks to leave a spent pack in situ and pull out a fully charged unit while also serving to stabilize the power grid during peak demand hours.
Visitors to CES in Las Vegas can experience all of these concepts for themselves until the Convention Center closes its doors on January 12.
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