Honda Stories

 

Innovation 2024.02.19

The State-of-the-art Mobility Products, CiKoMa and WaPOCHI Make an Outing More Delightful. Potentials Unveiled Throughout Testing in Joso City, Japan

The State-of-the-art Mobility Products, CiKoMa and WaPOCHI Make an Outing More Delightful. Potentials Unveiled Throughout Testing in Joso City, Japan

Honda’s CiKoMa ride-in micro-mobility vehicle and WaPOCHI micro-mobility robot, are developed for solving issues such as transportation in areas suffering from driver shortage due to decreasing population, and door-to-door mobility for families with small children and for senior citizens. In cooperation with Joso City, Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan, Honda kicked off technology demonstration testing in the end of 2022, which has progressed in 2024 to be able to offer the locals opportunities to experience the technologies. This article features an interview with the developers about feedback from testing, various challenges, and a future world they want to realize.

Hideki Matsunaga

Chief Engineer
Computer Science
Innovative Research Excellence
Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
View More Close Hideki Matsunaga

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Misa Komuro

Assistant Chief Engineer
Computer Science
Innovative Research Excellence
Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
View More Close Misa Komuro

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For more delightful outings with communicative CiKoMa and pet-like WaPOCHI

What is the expected use of CiKoMa ride-in micro-mobility vehicle in everyday life?

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

The CiKoMa is a mobility vehicle that frees people to go “whenever, wherever, to any destinations.” If the user calls with a small special terminal, it will come right in front of them. The CiKoMa can also move through a crowd freely. These characteristics differentiate the product from other autonomous mobility vehicles.

For example, at a sightseeing spot where there are many CiKoMas in operation, when you call for one, it comes to you and takes you to your destination. You can see it as a handy support when travelling in unfamiliar places or strolling.

If a store interests you on the way, you can just tell it to CiKoMa, and it will change the destination. We also focus on its communication function, so that CiKoMa can move around more easily and freely than when assisted by existing navigation systems. In response to the needs of families with small kids and of elderly people who feel it helpful if the vehicle comes to and picks them up where they are, our intention is CiKoMa runs not only on the street but also in areas where pedestrians are, to offer the door-to-door mobility.

CiKoMa ride-in micro-mobility vehicle, namely Cooperative Intelligent KOMA (Koma means a pony in Japanese.) CiKoMa ride-in micro-mobility vehicle, namely Cooperative Intelligent KOMA (Koma means a pony in Japanese.)

What kind of micro-mobility robot is WaPOCHI?

Komuro
Komuro

The WaPOCHI features two main functions: To follow the user like a pet while carrying their cargo, and to lead the way in the crowd for the user to walk more comfortably. When people go out to the town or go on a trip, they tend to avoid certain activities or carrying a lot of things while walking. Instead, they opt for a smaller bag or choose to buy souvenirs later in the trip.
During the demonstration test, I also noticed that it made walking easier when someone led the way to secure the space for it.

When the WaPOCHI accompanies people and takes care of carrying their belongings, individuals, especially senior citizens and families with smaller children, who tend to carry many necessities, may feel more comfortable venturing out.

WaPOCHI micro-mobility robot, namely Walking Support POCHI (meaning a support robot accompanying the user like a pet while walking) WaPOCHI micro-mobility robot, namely Walking Support POCHI (meaning a support robot accompanying the user like a pet while walking)

Why is the technology demonstration testing taking place in Joso City? Reason and reaction from the local community

Please tell us why the technology demonstration testing is taking place in Joso City.

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

We wanted to develop autonomous driving technologies under the complex environment of public roads, simulating every possible situation for use by a wide range of generations. In search of a suitable test environment for the test, we came across a closed driving school in Joso City.

For realizing a new mobility society, we prefer bettering the society through utilizing what is already existing, to building a completely new town. As the negotiation with the city moved on, the intention of Joso City became known that the city was also eager to improve lives of all the local community residents with new technologies. The main reason for settling on the location is that Joso City’s aspiration met Honda’s.

Komuro
Komuro

Good synergy is created based on the vision shared by Honda and Joso City to better the city with the help of new technologies. Moreover, Joso City officials are really willing to cooperate with us. Even though we come from entities of different natures; a local government and private company, I feel that the project is driven by the human relationship after all.

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

Autonomous driving vehicles like a robot taxi* designed to go on the road may be more commonly heard about, but there is no case example of a micro-mobility vehicle that can go autonomously both on the road and in the pedestrian area. Therefore, regulations or laws regarding its operations are not well laid down.

Just because there are no laws in place, I do not want to give up the development of the new mobility that can be handy for the people. We cannot make a law ourselves, but I believe it is important to show properly how the world can benefit from it through the technology demonstration testing for building a new society.

Thanks to the understanding, cooperation, and knowledge of Joso City and the police, we have finally reached to the first stage of this technology demonstration testing after many negotiations.

*Ride-hailing service dispatching fully autonomous and unmanned vehicles without the need for drivers

What is planned specifically in the technology demonstration testing?

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

The CiKoMa will start carrying the general public gradually from February 2024. Honda has set up a booth named Honda ASV-Lab.* in the Agri-science Valley Joso where the technology demonstration testing takes place. The stationary CiKoMa has been available there for a ride, to experience a part of the technology since November 2022.

We already have positive responses from the locals that they would love to ride on a moving one sooner and that it looks cute. First, I hope to have the locals try it out. Then, I am looking forward to having visitors test ride in CiKoMa, so that we can collect more feedback to update the product.

*Research and maintenance base for technology demonstration testing within the Agri-science Valley Joso, where bookings of CiKoMa are handled and research achievements are displayed

Komuro
Komuro

The full-fledged technology demonstration testing on WaPOCHI will start progressively from February 2024 as well. Before the actual test, the prototype has to be tried for movements on the test site for the final tune-up based on the reaction of visitors from the city.

What are Honda’s uniqueness and strength that you perceive in the process of the technology demonstration testing?

Komuro
Komuro

Because both CiKoMa and WaPOCHI are unprecedently new mobility products to the world, it is crucial that people accept them. As Honda values a “Three Realities Principle” of place, product, and reality, we believe that real challenges will be exposed only when a technology demonstration testing is conducted on an actual product at an actual place. For this project, thanks to the cooperation extended by Joso City, the development is progressing in a speedy manner. It is Honda’s uniqueness that all the development team members can act at the same speed based on the Three Realities Principle, and it is also Honda’s specific strength, I think.

Challenges unveiled in the technology demonstration testing and a future to achieve

What are the challenges emerged once the technology demonstration testing has started?

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

We foresaw pedestrians’ movements to a certain degree beforehand, however, once started, the technology demonstration testing did not go exactly in the manner we expected, and there were surprises.

Taking advantage of this kind of experience, I would like to keep improving the mobility vehicle to behave as naturally as possible and to communicate its intentions better with the light and sound from the LED panel on the front of the vehicle, so that pedestrians nearby can expect what moves the vehicle will make next and know if it is recognizing them well. This is not only for the passengers but also for the pedestrians in the vicinity for their peace of mind while walking.

Komuro
Komuro

We have been actively trying to reduce anxiety of the locals as much as possible for about a year. Some of our efforts include the already mentioned display of Honda’s activities at the Honda ASV-Lab, and lectures at local high schools using a prototype. We also took CiKoMa to community festivals to demonstrate the product. We received positive feedback from them, especially from students and small kids who listened to our presentation with a twinkle in their eyes; moreover older people encouraged us. Frankly, it pleased me so much.

Lastly, please tell us your dreams to achieve through the development of CiKoMa and WaPOCHI.

Komuro
Komuro

The most apparent benefit of WaPOCHI is that it carries belongings for the user, but I hope people go for a walk with it because it is fun to stroll with it. I aim for changing people’s lives in both the aspects of enhancing freedom and fun of walking.

Matsunaga
Matsunaga

It would be wonderful if people living in areas with limited transportation services, impacted by decreasing and/or aging population, could venture out anywhere they wish without worrying about securing means of travel.

In such a sense, I am aware that we are not only building technologies but also creating an environment in the world. Our essential objective is to ensure people’s freedom of mobility in order to find more smiling faces. Mobility technologies are just means to achieve the objective. I wish for the future where CiKoMa and WaPOCHI exist to be prosperous and fun to live in.

Future society realized by Honda CI-powered micro-mobility technologies Future society realized by Honda CI-powered micro-mobility technologies
Matsunaga
Matsunaga

When I was a junior high school student, I saw a Honda solar car running on the street. It impressed me; that’s why I decided to become an engineer. It is my pleasure if children who watch our mobility products in Joso City would aspire to be an engineer 5 or 10 years later.

Komuro
Komuro

Some of today’s students will lead the research and development of the leading-edge AI technologies in the near future. I anticipate that this technology demonstration testing will be an inspiration for them.

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