On September 30, 2021, Honda announced its challenge to expand the potential of mobility into the 3rd dimension, then the 4th dimension which defies the constraints of time and place, and ultimately into outer space. To be more specific, Honda introduced the direction to pursue three areas, namely Honda eVTOL, Honda Avatar Robot, and a new challenge in the field of outer space.
Keiji Ohtsu, President and Representative Director of Honda R&D Co., Ltd., explained why Honda takes on challenges in these new areas and the passion and aims of the research and development being conducted by Honda R&D.
Joined Honda R&D in 1983. With many years of experience in automobile engine development, Ohtsu became an operating officer in charge of quality control for Honda in 2018. He assumed his current position in April 2021, and leads the development of future technologies of Honda.
After the founding of Honda in 1948, Honda R&D was established in 1960 as a company independent of Honda Motor so that it can concentrate on research and development with a more freewheeling approach to thinking without being influenced by the short-term business results of Honda.
We research and develop technologies that help people based on our belief that helping each and every customer, make their dreams come true and expand the sum of the “joys” will ultimately make our society a better place.
Honda R&D had been in charge of all of Honda’s research and development activities including the development for our mass-production models and the development of advanced technologies. Over the past few years, we have transferred all of the development for mass-production models to Honda Motor, allowing Honda R&D to concentrate on preparation for future growth, or advanced areas, without being bound by existing business areas, to further strengthen our creation of new value through exploring the unknown.
This understanding has been penetrated into the mindset of each and every associate, and Honda R&D is becoming filled with the passion that we are all building the future ourselves. In areas of both eVTOL and robotics, I can feel that our development speed is accelerating. It is difficult to make a simple comparison, but I believe we would not have been able to make such smooth progress in development in new areas under our previous operational structure.
eVTOL, avatar robots and challenges in the field of outer space all aim to change the value of mobility and make our society a better place. In other words, we are building a new future through transformation of mobility. Our mission is to realize this vision through our original technologies, ideas and designs.
We are striving to maximize the value of time. eVTOL, for example, offers mobility in the sky, which we call three-dimensional mobility. As long as there is a certain amount of space, we can enable people to get on and off our eVTOL at various places such as rooftops, without requiring them to be at an airport. Moreover, by connecting eVTOL flights with land-based mobility, customers will be able to seamlessly travel to their destinations. In other words, their travel process and time can be minimized.
Another area we are working on is avatar robots, which we call a four-dimensional mobility. Avatar robots enable the user to work or experience things at various places without actually being there. We can meet with people who live on the other side of the world, or virtually experience space travel. We will be able to do new things that we couldn’t do before. The fourth dimension of mobility will eliminate the concept of travel time.
With three-dimensional mobility, we will minimize travel time and increase the value of time. With four-dimensional mobility, we will eliminate the concept of time. This is the value we aim to provide.
With Honda eVTOL, we will go beyond merely building aircraft. By creating a new mobility ecosystem featuring eVTOL aircraft at the core, we will expand the life’s potential of our customers. That is what we are striving for.
We aim to build a new layer in the skies closer to the ground than the layer for conventional airplanes and a mobility network centered on eVTOL. By completing a large mobility ecosystem which features eVTOL at its core and connects reservation systems, infrastructure and land-based mobility products such as cars, we are aiming to offer seamless mobility as a service.
When we think of new mobility, just providing hardware is no longer good enough in this modern age. I believe that, as a company that knows the most about mobility technologies, Honda should not merely produce hardware but strive to offer new value by looking at customers’ mobility experience as a whole. Then we can connect every experience our customers will have from the moment they leave home and before arriving at their destinations as one service.
Moreover, while other companies are developing an all-electric eVTOL with the range of approximately 100km, Honda is developing eVTOL with a hybrid power unit, with an aim to secure range of approximately 400km.
In Japan, the distance between Tokyo and Osaka is about 400km. Using our eVTOL, travel time between Tokyo and Osaka, door to door, will be only two hours. Travelling by conventional airplane, the customer would have to travel to the airport with time to spare and then disembark from the plane and travel by car or rail to their final destination. This cannot be done in two hours.
I believe that realizing this mobility ecosystem will indeed transform mobility.
Since its founding, Honda has been providing a wide variety of products and technologies. Taking a step back and looking at the technologies we already have in our hands, we found that we had all the pieces needed for our challenges in these new areas.
For example, our eVTOL aircraft utilizes gas turbine and aerodynamic technologies we developed for HondaJet. It also uses hybrid technologies we developed for our automobiles. I believe Honda is the only company that can combine original gas turbine and hybrid technologies. We also have experience in obtaining type certifications which officially verify the safety of our aircraft.
The sum of our technologies makes eVTOL possible. We are not chasing dreams. We are developing our eVTOL with complete confidence that we can do it with our technologies.
As an automaker, we have the advantage of realizing these technologies at a low cost. Being highly conscious of our costs is second nature to an automaker. It is so natural that we may not be aware of it, but I believe this also will be our strength.
The same is true for our avatar robots and space technologies. We can apply autonomous driving technologies for automobiles to rocket attitude control and guidance, and we have combustion technologies amassed through our history of developing internal combustion engines. We began rocket engine development in late 2019, and have already made astonishing progress over the last 2 years. Research and development at this speed is only possible because of a broad range of core technologies Honda has amassed to date.
It is our people that create original technologies and ideas which drive Honda’s challenging spirit. The company is 73 years old this year (2021), on the way to 100, and my hope is that we let Honda continue to shine forever and provide our customers with great products and technologies.
Our role is to build today’s Honda. But a decade from now, or when Honda becomes 100 years old and beyond, it will be today’s young associates who will create attractive products for our customers. The more committed we are to Honda’s future, the more important it becomes to take care of and nurture our young associates.
Honda has a culture of accepting that what is right is right. Whether it is coming from a young associate or an experienced engineer, we recognize the right technology is right. This is a good thing about Honda culture. Logic is especially vital for technology. I cannot give the go-ahead for the idea based solely on the passion of the person proposing it, but if the idea can be logically explained, I will give the green light, even with a 60 to 80 percent certainty.
In fact, the development of our rockets began based of the ideas of our young engineers. Honda needs to listen to the voices of our young associates, and we would like to put more effort into nurturing our young associates.
I always say nothing is impossible. I say that because I have faced many challenges in R&D, but overcame all of them. A lot goes wrong in R&D, but giving up should not be an option. We’re human, so sometimes we want to give up. But, giving up halfway through becomes failure. If we succeed after trying a third or fourth time, the first and second attempts become “experience” not “failures.”
The most important point when something goes wrong is to understand the cause or fundamental reason. What went right? What went wrong? We ask these questions again and again to reach the very essence of things. When we become capable of repeating this process, the technology will be perfected. When this happens, we will not fail the next time. I believe that is how people grow, and this is what we should do.
Honda has enhanced the value of its existence by delivering various new technologies and products, and we must continue to do so into the future. In doing so, I believe we can make Honda an even more “fun “company.
Technology development for mass-production models was moved to Honda Motor, but that means Honda Motor is responsible for technologies only for the next few years. Beyond that, Honda R&D must provide all the technologies, which is a major responsibility, but it is also a sign of the faith placed in Honda R&D.
Honda R&D develops technologies at least ten years in advance, in light of difficulties of realizing future technologies and the forecast for the market for such technologies will be formed in time. To that end, my major role is to nurture our young engineers and build a strong Honda R&D.
We will continue rolling out new technologies and provide customers with new value, so that Honda will be a company customers want to exist decades from now.*Interview and photography conducted while observing COVID precautions.