Honda is doubling down on rockets, robots and flying cars
Honda is increasing its research and development spending in three future areas: rockets, robots, and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (EVTOL), otherwise known as the flying car.
The automaker will spend $45 billion (5 trillion yen) on R&D over the next six years. But Honda would not say how much of that amount would be spent on developing rockets, robots and flying cars, nor if it plans to pursue those projects as commercial businesses.
In fact, Honda sees robots, rockets and EVTOL aircraft as extensions of its core business of manufacturing automobiles. For example, if the company can get a better electric vehicle platform than this, it will be worth the investment. Basically, it wants to see if it can build a working prototype before taking the next step.
“The core technologies in these areas are tied to our existing businesses,” Marcos Frommer, Honda’s head of corporate communications, said in a briefing with reporters, “and we’re looking at these new ones as an extension of our core business as a mobility company.” areas to follow. “
Honda says it is looking into EVTOL aircraft that can be used as part of an urban taxi service. But unlike most startups that build lightweight, multi-prop vehicles that run on lithium-ion batteries, Honda says it will pursue a hybrid solution “as a means to realize the range desired by our customers, Frommer said.
Honda says pure battery-electric aircraft will only be able to achieve a maximum range of “several 10 kilometres,” he said. By using gas turbines to complement the electric motor, Honda says it will be able to achieve ranges of up to 250 miles, enabling more commercially viable trips like those between Boston and New York City.
Honda says it will make a decision on whether to pursue a commercial air taxi service “before 2025”, aiming to achieve regulatory certification and launch a new service by 2030.
Honda isn’t the only automaker to express interest in EVTOL. Others, such as Toyota and GM, have also invested in prototypes and concepts.
Its robotics division aims to develop a “multi-fingered hand” that can pick up and hold certain objects. Honda is researching how to do this via remote operation, in which a human wearing a VR visor and attached gloves can operate the robotic arm.
Honda is a pioneer in the field of robotics, having developed Asimo, one of the first two-legged robots. The automaker stopped production of Asimo in 2018 to focus on using the technology for more practical use cases in nursing and road transportation.
Honda envisions white collars with digital screens in place of faces by using their “Avatar” robots to remotely attend meetings and even interact with physical objects. This will allow people to live where they choose without the constraints of workplace obligations, the company said.
Ultimately, Honda is hoping to put its working propulsion, guidance and control technologies to work on a “reusable rocket” program, Frommer said. He said the automaker began developing rocket technology in 2019. “If we can use such rockets to launch small low-orbit satellites, we can expect to develop our core technologies in a variety of services, including connected services,” he said.
How successful any of these research projects will be remains to be seen. The auto industry is going through a major change right now, with most major automakers vowing to phase out gas-powered vehicles in favor of electric vehicles. Honda is no different, vowing to stop selling internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040. This would be an incredibly expensive project, and also risky, as consumers in the US have been slow to adopt electrification.
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