Honda is doubling down on rockets, robots and flying cars

Honda is increasing its research and development costs in three futuristic areas: rockets, robots and electric vertical takeoff and landing craft (eVTOL), otherwise known as flying cars.

The automaker will spend $ 45 billion (5 trillion yen) on R&D over the next six years. But Honda will not say what fraction of this amount will be spent on developing rockets, robots and flying cars, nor even if it plans to pursue these projects as commercial companies.

In fact, Honda sees robots, rockets and eVTOL aircraft as an extension of its main automotive manufacturing business. If, for example, the company can get a better electric car platform out of it, then it is worth the investment. Basically, it wants to see if it can make working prototypes before taking the next step.

“Core technologies in these areas are connected to our existing companies,” said Marcos Frommer, head of corporate communications for Honda, in a briefing with journalists, “and we are pursuing these new areas as an extension of our core business as a mobility company.”

Honda says it is looking at eVTOL aircraft that could be used as part of a city taxi service. But unlike most start-ups that build lightweight, multi-prop vehicles that run on lithium-ion batteries, Honda says it will pursue a hybrid solution “as a means of realizing the range our customers want. , “said Frommer.

Honda says pure battery-powered aircraft will only be able to reach a maximum range of “several tens of kilometers,” he said. By using gas turbines to supplement an electric motor, Honda says it will be able to reach a range of up to 250 miles, enabling more commercially viable rides, such as. Between Boston and New York City.

Honda says it will make a decision on whether to pursue a commercial air taxi service “before 2025” with the aim of obtaining regulatory certification and launching a new service by 2030.

Honda is not the only carmaker expressing interest in eVTOL. Others, such as Toyota and GM, have also invested in prototypes and concepts.

The purpose of its robotics department is to develop “multi-fingered hands” that can pick up and grab certain objects. Honda is investigating how to do this via remote control, where a human wearing a VR visor and a connected glove can operate the robot hand.

Honda is a pioneer in robotics and has developed Asimo, one of the first robots to walk on two legs. The carmaker stopped producing Asimo in 2018 to focus on using the technology for more practical application cases in nursing and road transport.

Honda envisions white collar using its “Avatar” robots with digital screens instead of a face to remotely attend meetings and even interact with physical objects. This will allow people to live where they choose without restrictions in the workplace, the company says.

Finally, Honda hopes to make its work on propulsion, guidance and control technology work on a “recyclable rocket program,” Frommer said. The automaker began developing rocket technology in 2019, he added. “If we can use such rockets to launch small low-lane satellites, we can expect to develop our core technologies for various services, including related services,” he said.

How successful some of these research projects will be remains to be seen. The automotive industry is undergoing a major shift right now, with most of the big companies promising to phase out gas-powered vehicles in favor of electric ones. Honda is no different and promises to stop the sale of internal combustion motor vehicles by 2040. This will be an incredibly expensive project and also risky as consumers in the US have been slow to adopt electrification.

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