Honda Put A Face On An Autonomous Metal Mule And Made A Friend

Honda Put A Face On An Autonomous Metal Mule And Made A Friend

Honda likes to tinker. Remember Asimo, the robot that served no obvious purpose except to shake the hands of dignitaries? Asimo’s life was a lie, but damn if it wasn’t an adorable one. You have to remember, this was like 15 years ago, so the existential dread of technological overreach hadn’t really taken root yet, nor had Facebook outside of colleges. Robots were still cool.

Well, Honda’s chronic ambition to whip up friendly looking appliances with faces on them has now led to the creation of the Autonomous Work Vehicle, or AWV. It is a box built on the same chassis as the Pioneer side-by-side, powered by batteries and equipped with lidar, GPS and cameras to locate and drive itself. It’s intended for use on large-scale construction sites, like the 404 sq km, 120-megawatt solar farm Black & Veatch is setting up in New Mexico.

The AWV can carry payloads up to 400 kg or tow 750 kg for an estimated range of 45 km. In the Black & Veatch trial, that figured to about eight hours of grunt work on the solar site before requiring a charge, which Honda says takes about six hours. And the AWV can do all of these things in hot, dusty, rocky conditions, like the sort you find in the desert.

Most of the AWV’s duties, then, pertain to moving things from here to there, from raw materials to safety equipment, supplies and water. Operators can steer the vehicle by remote control, but that wouldn’t be very autonomous. The AWV’s real party trick is being able to go where it’s told, driving itself to waypoints set via a mobile app.

Photo: Honda

At the moment, the AWV is just a concept — albeit a working one. Honda says it’s interested in courting additional partners for further test pilot programs, like the month-long one it conducted with Black & Veatch. The goal is to deploy AWVs across “a wide range of industries.”

Photo: Honda

There’s no question there’s real utility behind a solution like this, as it’s the exact sort of short-haul, purpose-built commercial application EVs shine at. But there’s something insidious about an autonomous truck with a face you can’t hate ultimately designed to take jobs that used to belong to people. That is why robots are cute after all — so you give them the benefit of the doubt, even though they can’t reason. But damn it if it doesn’t work, and Honda isn’t a pro at the craft.