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Honda’s Rugged Self-Driving Automobile Is Going Off-Highway

At CES, the automaker is displaying off its Autonomous Work Automobile prototype, a rugged self-driving automotive.

7, 2019

5 min learn

This story initially appeared on PC Magazine

Honda has taken a extra affected person strategy to self-driving tech. The carmaker hasn’t jumped into the fray fairly as rapidly as different producers, however up to now 12 months has begun to drag again the curtain on its two-pronged autonomous automobile technique.

On the buyer facet, the corporate introduced a $2 billion funding and unique collaboration with GM’s Cruise final October on an autonomous automobile. On the opposite facet is Honda’s Powersports group, which builds ATVs, bikes, and off-road autos. Eventually 12 months’s CES, the manufactuter unveiled the prototype Honda Autonomous Work Automobile (AWV) — basically a rugged four-wheel-drive clean canvas that may be programmed for varied off-road self-driving duties.

At CES 2019, Honda is displaying off the way it has deployed its AWV over the previous 12 months, from search and rescue and preventing forest fires to agriculture, photo voltaic panel upkeep, and even snow plowing. We spoke to Pete Wendt, senior planner in Superior Product Planning for Honda R&D Americas, concerning the Autonomous Work Automobile’s growth and testing, and what comes subsequent for the rugged self-driving prototype.

Wendt, who works within the Powersports group, burdened that the mission is totally separate from the auto autonomous facet of the corporate, however that the 2 groups do share experience and analysis.

That mentioned, the autonomous software program challenges are rather a lot completely different. Self-driving automobiles are touring at increased speeds and object detection is targeted on what a driver would see on the roads, whereas off-road challenges might imply coaching the autonomous system to take care of all method of pure obstacles.

“One of many craziest use instances we got here throughout have been ranchers in Australia herding cattle,” mentioned Wendt. “They have been utilizing two guys on off-road bikes, a canine, a helicopter, and some individuals on horseback. Now take into consideration a fleet of 20 autonomous work autos that will know if a couple of cows branched off, as an instance two autos would begin honking to drive them again into the herd.”

The AWV has completely different autonomous modes relying on the deployment scenario. “Observe Me,” as an example, is designed for firefighters preventing forest fires and wildfires to assist carry gear. Honda has been testing the AWVs with a wildland firefighting division in Colorado. The autonomous automobile could be loaded up with the 60-70 kilos of drugs, together with water, that firefighters would in any other case have to hold with them as they reply as rapidly as doable to a scenario. The automobile merely follows them and does the heavy lifting.

This mode can be key for search and rescue or emergency response conditions, the place the AWV could be despatched into extra harmful conditions or treacherous terrain.

“Search and rescue groups should drive someone up a truck to the best mountain areas or down into mines with comms gear within the truck,” mentioned Wendt. “That individual sitting within the truck might as a substitute be used to look. As we get extra comfy with the know-how and it will get extra highly effective, it’s going to be wonderful to see how it may be useful.”

Different modes — together with “Sample” and “A to B” — are extra suited to farming and agriculture conditions, Wendt defined. The autonomous autos could be educated on patterns for spreading fertilizer, as an example, or selecting vegatables and fruits throughout a harvest season the place there is a better demand for manpower within the fields. One other attention-grabbing use case Honda has explored alongside these strains is photo voltaic panel upkeep, which Honda has been testing with a large-scale photo voltaic operations firm in North Carolina.

“This was one we by no means anticipated. The [solar company] contacted us and defined that they’ve weeds rising in huge photo voltaic fields that span hilly areas with mud and rocks and tough terrain,” mentioned Wendt. “They tried goats, however the goats ate wires. Then they tried sheep, however the sheep would not eat a number of the weeds. So the autos drive up and down the roads and reduce down weeds. We’re now speaking about equipping them with sensors to scan the panels for harm or lifeless spots, even maybe with a thermal imagery sensor to search for hotspots.”

This sort of large-scale agricultural and operations automation is one massive potential use for these sorts of business-focused autonomous autos. It is nonetheless early days for Honda, however Wendt mentioned it is hoping to fulfill potential companions at CES that may begin constructing out an ecosystem.

“The thought is that if and once we launch, [the vehicle] will include a wide range of equipment, from easy issues like a dump mattress to extra superior equipment like a pesticide or fertilizer sprayer,” mentioned Wendt. “Because the know-how evolves, we’ll add extra equipment, and third-party suppliers and companions can create their very own specialised attachments for this low-cost platform. We’d not have the experience to create a robotic arm, as an example.

“What made the iPhone so nice wasn’t the telephone; it was the apps. Most of these have been developed by third events,” mentioned Wendt.

The AWV continues to be in developmental levels, so Honda declined to offer launch timing or pricing.

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