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Honda wants to prove robots can help you, not kill you

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Robots. You either believe their cold, mechanical arms and the heartless logic will be humanity’s ultimate undoing, or that they’ll snatch away our jobs and destroy livelihoods. Honda (HMC), though, wants to change that perception. And it’s hoping to do so with four new concept robots.

Based on a principle that robots are designed to help people, each of Honda’s machines use the prefix 3E, which the company says stands for empower, experience and empathy. The idea is for these concept robots to improve people’s lives by augmenting their existing capabilities, performing otherwise dangerous tasks and even serving as a companion.

A rugged bot and a helper

Honda’s Empower robot, dubbed the 3E-D18, is designed to be a workhorse around construction sites, farms or for first responders. The machine, which is essentially a smart ATV and uses one of the company’s existing ATV body’s, can be used to access hard to reach areas thanks to its nearly indestructible wheels. Those wheels, called tweels and are made by Michelin, won’t go flat since they don’t use air, but rather a series of flexible supports.

Honda’s Pete Wendt, who came up with the idea for the D18 said it’s fully electric and offers hot-swappable batteries. The system can also be adapted to different roles based on your own personal needs.

If, for example, you know it’s going to snow, you could outfit the D18 with a snowblower attachment up front and a salt spreader out back. The robot’s AI, which would connect to the cloud, would then know when it started snowing and automatically leave its dock and begin clearing the snow and laying down salt to keep the path clear.

The 3E-B18, on the other hand, is designed for indoor and outdoor use to help move individuals around. Honda doesn’t say it outright, but the device seems to be designed for use as a kind of intelligent wheelchair. The bot, which has built-in sensors so it can be operated autonomously, is supposed to help people get around easier and navigate tight spaces thanks to its small turning radius.

Unfortunately, Honda didn’t have a working B18 available at the show.

The everything machine

Honda’s 3E-C18 is meant for use as a kind of robotic hotdog cart, ice cream cart, DJ cart or anything that you like. Basically, it’s a cart with smarts. The idea is for you to be able to use the C18 however you see fit. A front-mounted display can show greetings or expressive eyes to draw in potential customers.

Honda says the C18 can learn how people behave and, thanks to its built-in AI, learn how to function on its own. Best of all, you can jump into the C18 and drive it on your own if you want.

Attendees wave at Honda robotics concepts 3E-C18, left, and 3E-A18 at CES International, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A robot you can hug

Finally, there was Honda’s 3E-A18, the robot designed to prove once and for all that robots can be our friends. This lightbulb-shaped bot features an animated face that can express emotions ranging from happiness to sadness. The A18 balances on a single wheel and can be used to help guide people around places like airports or serve as a companion.

Heck, the robot was specifically designed to be huggable. After the massive earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011, Honda brought its Asimo robot to elementary and middle schools in an attempt to cheer up students whose lives were upended by the disasters. Naturally, the children wanted to touch and hug the robot, but since it was so fragile, they weren’t allowed to. And so, Honda created the A18.

Now if you still think robots are coming to dominate our species, at least you can take solace in the fact that they’ll be incredibly cute when they do so.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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