What does the future of robotics look like? Nobody knows for sure, but Honda seems pretty certain it’ll be cute. At CES next January, the Japanese manufacturer will show off a quartet of new robot concepts, including a companion bot, an autonomous off-road vehicle, and a pair of “mobility” concepts — for moving people and things about. Two of them have actual cute faces, and the other two are at least extremely non-threatening.
But why make robots that look like this? In Honda’s case it’s because the company sees the future of robotics as rooted in human interaction. Honda’s bipedal Asimo is the face (and body) of the firm’s robotics research, but its other major products include the Uni-Cub, a wheel you sit down on a steer by leaning; and the Walking Assist — a harness you wear around your hips, and that helps you walk.
Machines like this that help with mobility are particularly crucial in Japan, a country that’s turning to robots to help look after a rapidly-aging population. And if your robots are going to be helping people all day, we know that things will go smoother if they at least look friendly.
From left to right below you can see the smiling companion bot (3E-A18) which “shows compassion to humans with a variety of facial expressions”; the “chair-type mobility concept” (3E-B18), designed for “casual use” in indoor or outdoor spaces; another “mobility concept with multi-functional cargo space” (3E-C18); and an “autonomous off-road concept” (3E-D18) which basically looks like a quad-bike. All these are concept vehicles, which means Honda has no plans right now to actually sell them.
We’ve already seen the robot second from the right, 3E-C18, when it showed up earlier this year at the Tokyo Motor Show as a self-driving cooler. We’ll be taking a closer look at the other three at CES in January. Stay tuned.