Honda will begin testing micro electric vehicles that will utilise Honda’s cooperative intelligence (CI) and artificial intelligence to support the coexistence of people and machines, the manufacturer said in a statement.

The manufacturer will commence demonstration testing of its CI micro-mobility technologies in Joso City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan in two locations; the Mitsukaido Asunaro no Sato camping and lodging park from this month, and the Agri-Science Valley beginning in the northern hemisphere spring of 2023.

Two micro-mobility machines have been tasked with these tests, and the duo consists of the “CiKoMa” ride-in micromobility vehicle for one or several persons, and the “WaPOCHI”, a micromobility robot that follows a user by remembering and recognising their distinctive characteristics.

Honda has ventured along the micro EV path before, with the Micro Commuter EV of 2011, which was followed by the Micro Commuter Prototype EV the year after.

The areas of technology demonstration testing will be expanded as Honda advances its CI micro-mobility technologies, and will continue research and development with the aim of putting the technology into practical use by around 2030, said Honda.

Having forecast an increased need for unrestricted mobility for people and things amid changed habits following the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to an ageing population with a declining birthrate, Honda has established two core technologies; the mapless cooperative driving technology, and the user intention-understanding and communication technology.

The first, mapless cooperative driving technology is aimed at enabling the micro-mobility machine to drive itself while recognising its surroundings, without having to rely on high-precision maps. Meanwhile, the second technology is intended for the machine to be able to perform “human-like communication with dialogues and gestures.”

The ability for a machine to drive itself without said reliance on high-precision maps will be from a real-time understanding of road structures, such as intersections and curves as well as other road users including pedestrians and other vehicles through only visual data captured by onboard cameras, which the machine will then have to quickly understand and determine a clear passage instantly.

This capability will also extend to being able to generate a map of passable areas in an open space that has no road markings or phyiscal boundaries such as kerbs; this is by the instant generation of three-dimensional images of the distance to any obstacles or objects, thus recognising passable areas like a person would with their own eyes, said Honda.

These will be joined by a human-environment cooperative action planning function, which is to enable a smooth ride to one’s destination by using a real-time route optimisation algorithm that takes into account various driving conditions, as if with a skilled human driver at the controls of the vehicle.

The second technology, which is for user intention understanding and communication, aims to enable the micromobility machine to have a human-like understanding of words and gestures, in order to think and make proposals on its own.

This includes an intention exchanging function, where user and machine communicate to achieve a mutual understanding; a dialogue-based user identification function, which determines the distinctive characteristics of multiple users and identify them by engaging in dialogue; and a user-machine negotiation/proposal function, which registers human experiences as prior knowledge and avoids negative factors, such as if the user asks to park the vehicle in a potentially dangerous place.

The technology demonstration testing will begin this month, November 2022 at the Mitsukaido Asunaro no Sato camping and lodging park for the advancing of Honda’s mapless cooperative driving technology; this will be done with the four-passenger model of the CiKoMa micromobility vehicle. Testing will begin with a human driver supervising the vehicle, before graduating to automated driving as the mapless cooperative driving technology advances.

Subsequently, testing at the Agri-Science Valley will continue with the four-passenger CiKoMa and additionally include the WaPOCHI, a micromobility robot that has multiple cameras mounted on its upper body, capturing a 360-degree view of its surroundings and uses AI to track the user’s distinct traits.

Should the WaPOCHI loses sight of its user with traffic or other objects in the way, it will find its user again by recalling its memorised traits of its user. The aim of this research is to enable the WaPOCHI to lead the way for its user to aid in ease of walking, says Honda.

Testing of the WaPOCHI at the Agri-Science Valley will begin with the micromobility robot following sales staff from stores within the Agri-Science Valley grounds, and the development schedule will progress towards test use by general users during their shopping and other activities.