To serve people worldwide with the “joy of expanding their life’s potential,” Honda has been striving to lead the advancement of mobility and enable people everywhere in the world to improve their daily lives, while also aiming to realize a collision-free society.
As one of the initiatives toward our goals, Honda has been working on micro-mobility technologies powered by CI (Cooperative Intelligence) that utilize Honda CI, Honda’s original AI that enables mutual understanding between machines and people.
We are striving to make the mobility of people and things ubiquitous (“whenever, wherever, to any destinations”), collision-free and stress-free to realize a society where people experience the joy and freedom of mobility.
To realize collision-free and stress-free mobility, we need micro-mobility machines which achieve mutual understanding with people and cooperate with the surrounding environment to support the freedom of mobility for people and things.
In the future society with a declining birthrate, aging population and people living increasingly busy lives, we anticipate that the attitude people have toward “mobility” will be different from what we know today.
In an aged society, there will be greater concerns about traffic accidents and difficulties the elderly will face while trying to go places, including the inevitable use of stairs in urban areas. All of this will become an issue in society. The low birthrate and aging population will cause a labor shortage in society and, as a result, people will be busier and wish for more time efficient mobility. At the same time, although members of “Generation Z (Gen-Z)” tend to have a strong desire to go out and experience things in person, many of them are also anxious about driving.
New technologies are required to meet such a wide variety of needs and desires and realize freedom of mobility for people. These new technologies need to solve issues that cannot be adequately resolved with existing means such as the data utilization, fully automated driving and robotic services.
At Honda, we believe that new value-added mobility products will be necessary to resolve our daily mobility issues in the near future. What we need are mobility machines that enable the user to enjoy safety and freedom of mobility by understanding the intentions of the user, recognizing the surrounding road environment without relying on high-definition maps and cooperating with other road users so that they can give way to and/or negotiate with each other.
To realize such mobility machines, Honda has developed Honda CI (Cooperative Intelligence), an advanced AI technology that recognizes the surrounding environment, communicates with people, understands people’s intentions and situations, and makes decisions on its own. We are now conducting research on the Honda CI Micro-mobility machines which utilize Honda CI to realize the freedom of mobility.
To accommodate the growing need for mobility, Honda is currently conducting research on two Honda CI Micro-mobility machines: CiKoMa* ride-in vehicle and WaPOCHI* robot that follows the user while they are walking.
*CiKoMa: “Cooperative Intelligent KOMA” (“Koma” means “young horse” in Japanese.)
WaPOCHI: “Walking support POCHI” (The name represents an image of a robot that provides walking support while coming alongside the user, like a pet.)
“POCHI” stands for Robotic Porter Obtaining Cooperative Human-machine-Interface.
Note: POCHI is also a common name for pet dogs in Japan.
The CiKoMa is a ride-in micro-mobility vehicle designed for one or multiple passenger(s). Because CiKoMa is basically a self-driving vehicle, even people who are not comfortable driving can enjoy mobility safely with a peace of mind. Although CiKoMa drives autonomously, the user can select CiKoMa’s pathway freely by instructing CiKoMa to turn right/left using a joystick.
CiKoMa is being developed as a vehicle that the user can hail and get on whenever they need and get off wherever they prefer. Leveraging this ubiquitous nature of CiKoMa, Honda is striving to popularize it as a casual means of transportation for business, sightseeing, or a quick ride around town.
The WaPOCHI is a micro-mobility robot that recognizes the user and continues to follow the user while they are walking. WaPOCHI can carry bags or other small items so that the user can enjoy walking without carrying anything.
Further down the road, we envision making WaPOCHI capable of leading the way through a crowd, so that the users, including elderly people, can walk easily in crowds without bumping into passersby.
In contrast to existing self-driving vehicles which use high-definition maps and drive to a preset destination, Honda CI-powered mobility machines do not use high-definition maps. Instead, they “look” at the road and understand the structures, just like human drivers do, and decide which pathways to take and drives there autonomously. With our self-driving Honda CI-powered vehicles, the users can enjoy freedom of mobility in addition to going to pre-set destinations.
Fully automated vehicles which take the passengers to predetermined destinations do not allow passengers to enjoy freedom of mobility such as changing directions into a small alley out of curiosity. Typical automated driving vehicles rely on high-definition maps, and it is cost-prohibitive and impractical to create maps that include everything such as narrow alleys set back from main roads and pathways within the premises of certain facilities. Therefore, to realize a self-driving vehicle which allows the user to enjoy freedom of mobility, we need to create a vehicle that drives safely while recognizing road structures by “looking” at them just like people do, without relying on maps.
Such a vehicle must also understand lanes, intersections and other road structures to make right/left turns appropriately and safely in response to instructions given by the user.
Moreover, it is also essential for the vehicle to predict the behavior of other road users in the vicinity such as pedestrians and bicycle riders and drive safely while avoiding potential risks.
Furthermore, to drive freely on public open space where there are no road surface markings and curbs, the vehicle must have a function to recognize and avoid obstacles and drive while generating a map with an optimal route selected while also taking user’s comfort into consideration.
Because recognition targets, vehicle speeds, and traffic rules differ greatly between driving on roadways and on public open spaces, the map-less cooperative driving functions are configured separately for each scene.
The system is capable of real-time recognition of not only visible road surface markings such as lane markings and stop lines but also road structures such as lanes that people presume while navigating. Unlike maps, the road structures recognized by the system change every moment. The system generates action plans which accommodate such changes and controls the vehicle to make right/left turns with a stable steering angle.
Three-dimensional point clouds are generated from the parallax of the two lenses of a stereo camera, and the grid-based analysis of such point clouds enables the recognition of 3D objects which could be possible obstacles to CiKoMa.
If the height of the obstacle exceeds a predetermined value, the system determines it as an impassable area and finds passable areas quickly. Then, the system generates a rough outline of the shortest route to the target spot on a real-time basis, and CiKoMa moves along that route in a trajectory that smoothly avoids obstacles.
WaPOCHI is a micro-mobility robot that recognizes and follows a non-stationary user. WaPOCHI recognizes and memorizes the user's appearance features such as the color of their clothing, hair color, height, and physique using images captured by its cameras. It follows the user diagonally from behind like a pet and is capable of carrying bags or other small items for the user.
For recognition, WaPOCHI uses multiple cameras mounted on the front/back, right/left sides of the upper part of its body. By capturing a 360-degree three-dimensional view of its surroundings, WaPOCHI uses AI to extract and track the user’s distinctive characteristics. Even if WaPOCHI loses sight of the user other pedestrians or objects, it is designed to identify the user again based on the memorized characteristics once the user comes back to its view and resume tracking.
Honda will continue research with the aim to realize a functionality that enables WaPOCHI to lead the way so that the user can walk through a crowd with ease.
WaPOCHI continues following the user, who was authenticated by palm vein authentication, using its cameras by capturing and remembering the appearance features of the user.
WaPOCHI identifies the user by scanning the people who are in the vicinity of the last spot where the user was recognized, and whose characteristics captured by the cameras are most similar to the memorized characteristics of the user.
If a mobility product and its user can communicate and understand each other's intentions, and if the mobility product can think and make suggestions on its own, it will be possible for the mobility product to follow the user’s ambiguous instructions. This requires technology that enables the mobility product to understand human words and gestures, and its surroundings.
Let’s imagine the future where self-driving mobility products are widespread and a situation occurs where the user wants to inform the mobility product of a change in the meeting point and/or the destination.
If the user has to use a smartphone app and type in the new location to notify the mobility product, it would not only be inconvenient, but in some cases, too slow to deal with last-minute changes.
If the mobility product is capable of understanding human words and gestures, just as people communicate with each other, the user and the mobility product can smoothly communicate their intentions. With Honda CI, we are taking on challenges to realize “mobility at the will of the user,” which will not ask human users to accommodate the needs of mobility products but enjoy mobility based on mutual understanding between machines and people.
CiKoMa first moves to the approximate location where the user is located based on GPS information, and then searches for the user by applying image recognition using images captured by its cameras. If there are multiple people in the vicinity, CiKoMa determines the characteristic differences among the candidates and automatically calculates which questions about their characteristics will help in identifying the user in the shortest amount of time. Then CiKoMa identifies the user by asking these questions.
In addition to words, people often indicate the direction they want to go by pointing their finger in that direction. For example, if there are multiple vending machines and the user points to one of them and says, "Go to the vending machine over there," CiKoMa first extracts the keyword "vending machine" from the instruction. CiKoMa then uses its image recognition function to gain three-dimensional understanding of the pointing gesture and estimates the direction the user is intending to point. By understanding this information in an integrated manner, CiKoMa smoothly identifies the user's intended destination, just as if the user were interacting with another human being.
The point indicated by the user is not necessarily the appropriate stopping point for CiKoMa. For example, even if the user instructs CiKoMa to "come and stop near that car," CiKoMa makes its own decision that the area around the car is dangerous based on its pre-registered knowledge of rules, manners, and danger levels. CiKoMa then explains the reason why the stopping point instructed by the user is not appropriate and proposes a new spot by saying, "It seems dangerous. Is it OK to stop near the cone?"
We are researchers involved in automobile development and not just in AI. While AI researchers try to solve problems by thoroughly concentrating on enhancing their AI, we do not particularly follow that approach. We have a wide variety of experience in development that can be leveraged to realize the solutions we are aiming for. Also we have the know-how in control technology that we can apply.
Actually, we are incorporating our know-how in control theory, such as optimal control, robust control and adaptive control, which have been the strengths Honda in the area of powertrain and vehicle body control to increase the precision of automated driving performed by Honda CI Micro-mobility machines. By taking such an approach which is unique to Honda, we were able to create innovative technologies, including an automated driving system which does not rely on maps.
Another approach unique to Honda is that researchers are also serving as test drivers using actual vehicles. When you separate the researchers from those who test, there is no feedback from the real field, real products and reality, so all you can do is look at vast amounts of data.
By actually riding on the prototype, the researchers who were familiar with the issues were able to recognize with all five senses what problems it had, what shortcomings it had, and what was happening that was different from what they had assumed on their desks, and came up with ideas for solving the issues.
The CiKoMa and WaPOCHI research is now in the phase of conducting a series of proof-of-concept tests. We will utilize the knowledge we gain from the proof-of-concept testing and further advance Honda CI Micro-mobility technology. By using our technologies to help people, we are hoping to contribute to the creation of a vibrant and lively society in the future where everyone can enjoy the freedom of mobility with a complete peace of mind.