Rather than standalone devices that work independently, Honda envisions a future in which multiple robotics devices work together as a system to make human life better. That's why its four new robotics demonstrations unveiled on Tuesday at CES 2018 in Las Vegas are united under one banner: 3E Concept.
3E stands for Empower, Experience and Empathy, which the Japanese automaker sees as the three ways robotics can enhance our daily lives.
The 3E-D18 is an autonomous off-road workhorse device based on Honda's ATV chassis but with a customizable rail system in place of a seat or handlebars. The D18 makes use of AI to get around, while serving a broad range of work activities. Its four-wheel-drive electric powertrain, short ATV wheelbase and virtually indestructible airless tires should help it to climb obstacles and get to hard-to-reach places.
Honda's vision is that the 3E-D18 could be used by construction crews, firefighters, search and rescue and other rough-and-tumble enterprises that need heavy lifting done. The rail system can accommodate a variety of equipment chosen to fit the job and the GPS and sensor-based AI allows the D18 to guide itself through the environment.
On a smaller scale, the 3E-B18 -- yeah, they're all named very similarly -- is a sort of a robotic wheelchair for use in- or outdoors, aimed at empowering the disabled or elderly. Unlike a wheelchair, the B18 can maintain an upright, level seat even when driven up or downhill. Its small footprint allows it to turn in a tight radius and access narrow pedestrian areas. With additional attachments, the 3E-B18 can transform from a seated mobility scooter to a motorized luggage cart or a stroller.
Honda's 3E-A18 is an empathetic robotic device designed to explore the emotional connection between machines and humans. The 3E-A18 has a face that can show emotions and can recognize and respond to the emotions of a person interacting with it. Sitting atop an omnidirectional driving wheel, the A18 has a rounded, egg-like shape with a soft exterior skin that "invites people to touch or hug the robot," in Honda's words.
The A18's purpose is to support people by serving as a guide in public places or giving comfort, like a service dog, to humans in distress.
The A18 was designed to be cute, but I think the most adorable of the four Honda robotics concepts is the 3E-C18. This little bot looks like a boxy R2-D2, but with a face that reminds me of the most recent .
The C18's purpose is broad. It can carry things and has a deployable canopy that reveals a flat surface, which makes it sort of like a mobile workspace for entrepreneurs, craft folk or artists. But it also has an AI that can observe people, learn about them and operate autonomously. Add-ons allow the C18 to be customized for both personal and commercial use.
At this point, it's OK if these robotics concepts are a bit vague in their purpose. Honda is still figuring out how we'll use and interact with robots in the future.
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