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Honda debuts four very different robotics concepts at CES

Honda's 3E concepts explore how robotics can benefit from empowerment, empathy and experience.

Honda

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.

Empower

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.

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Honda

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. 

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Honda

Empathy

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.

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Honda

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.

Experience

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 Honda electric car concepts.

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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