Honda announces plans to build electric VTOLs and telepresence robots

The company also seeks to expand its presence in the space industry.

avatar (20th Century Studios)

Honda builds much more than cars and trucks — power equipment, solar cells, industrial robotics, alternative fuel engines and even aircraft are all part of the company's production capacity. On Thursday, Honda announced that it is working to further expand its manufacturing portfolio to include Avatar-style remote telepresence robots and electric VTOLs for inter- and intracity commutes before turning its ambitions to building a fuel-cell driven power generation system for the lunar surface.

For its eVTOL, Honda plans to leverage not only the lithium battery technology it's developed for its EV and PHEV vehicles but also a gas turbine hybrid power unit to give the future aircraft enough range to handle regional inter-city flights as well. Honda foresees air taxis as a ubiquitous part of tomorrow's transportation landscape, seamlessly integrating with both autonomous ground vehicles and traditional airliners (though they could soon be flown by robots as well). Obviously, the program is still very much in the early research phase and will likely remain so until at least the second half of this decade. The company anticipates having prototype units available for testing and certification by the 2030s and a full commercial rollout sometime around 2040.

Honda will have plenty of competition if and when it does get its eVTOLs off the ground. Cadillac showed off its single-seater aircar earlier this year, while Joby (in partnership with NASA) already has full-scale mockups flying. In June, Slovakian transportation startup, Klein Vision, flew from Nitra and to the Bratislava airport in its inaugural inter-city flight — and then drove home after the event. But building a fleet of flying taxis is no easy feat — just ask Bell helicopters — and we're sure to see more companies drop out of the sector before eVTOLs become commonplace.

Honda Motor's Asimo robot puts on a demonstration for the media at the Jacob Javits Convention Center during the New York International Auto Show in New York April 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS)
Carlo Allegri / reuters

Honda reps also discussed the company's future robotics aspirations during a media briefing on Wednesday. The company envisions a future where people are unencumbered by space and time, where telepresence robots have visual and tactile acuity rivalling that of humans. Rather than hopping on a plane to inspect remote factory floors or attend product demonstrations in person, tomorrow's workers may simply don VR headsets and step into the body of an on-site humanoid robot.

The company announced that it wants its Avatar Robot — a newly refined iteration of the Asimo (above) — put into practical use in the 2030s and will conduct technology demonstration testing by the end of Q1, 2024 in order to meet that goal. But before that happens Honda reps noted that the company has work to do downsizing the robot's hand hardware and improving its grasping dexterity.

Honda's circulative renewable energy system

Honda also has big plans for its space ventures including working on ways to adapt its existing fuel cell and high differential pressure water electrolysis technologies to work on the lunar surface as part of a circulative renewable energy system.

This system would use electricity gathered from renewable energy sources (like solar) to break the molecular bonds of liquid water, resulting hydrogen and oxygen. Those two elements would then be run through Honda's fuel cell to generate both electricity and supply the lunar habitats with oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel.

The company also hopes to utilize the more-nimble Avatar hands its developing as manipulators on a fleet of remote controlled lunar rovers which will perform tasks on the lunar surface rather than subject astronauts to the moon's many dangers. Honda has partnered with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and began joint research into both of these systems in June.