HONDA CARS, PLANES, MOTORCYCLES, ROBOTS AND RACING; HYBRIDS, FUEL CELLS CARS, ASIMO AND HONDAJET

HONDA CARS IN JAPAN

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Honda Fit
Honda sold 740,000 vehicles in Japan in 2004. In 2001, four the to selling cars in Japan were Hondas. In 2002 two of the top selling cars in Japan were Hondas: the Fit at No. 1, selling 250,790 units, and the Mobilio, selling 72,242 units.

The Fit was the best selling car in Japan in 2002, the second best selling car in 2003 and 2004 and the bestselling car in Japan in 2008. was introduced in June 2001 and has been successful because of its cheap price, good fuel efficiency and spacious interior. It recent years the Fit and the Toyota Corolla have been vying for the position as the best selling car in Japan. The Fit was voted Car of the Year in Japan in 2007. The Fit was the best-selling car in Japan in February 2011. The increase in sales was partly due to the introduction of a hybrid Fit in February 2010, the cheapest hybrid on the market.

Civic and Fit are popular fuel-efficient models. Fit is popular among first time car buyers in Japan. Sales of the car in the United States began in April 2006.

The Honda Life was one of the best selling minicars in 2004. Honda also produces Acty, That’s Zest, Vamos and Hobio mincars.

Two of the top rated cars in 10 categories rated by Consumers Reports in 2010 were Hondas. In 2008, three of the most fuel efficient vehicles in the United States were Hondas: 2) Honda Civic hybrid (42.25 miles per gallon); 8) Honda Fit (30.7 miles per gallon); and 9) Honda Civic (29.8 miles per gallon).

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Honda honda.com ; History of Honda world.honda.com/history ; Asimo Robot asimo.honda.com ; Hondajet hondajet.honda.com ; Honda Concept Cars automobiles.honda.com/future-cars ; Honda Racing racing.honda.com ;New York Times articles on Honda nytimes.com ; Car Connections on New Hondas thecarconnection.com/make/new,honda

Hybrids and Fuel Cell Cars: Wikipedia article on Hybrids Wikipedia ; Honda Hybrids honda.com/Hybrid ; Wikipedia article on Fuel Cells Wikipedia ; Honda Fuel Cells honda.com/FuelCell ;

Links in this Website: INDUSTRIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE COMPANIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TRADE AND OVERSEAS BUSINESS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MACROECONOMICS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN INC. AND REFORMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AUTOMOBILES AND DRIVING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HYBRIDS, FUEL CELLS AND ELECTRIC CARS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE AUTOMOBILE COMPANIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TOYOTA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TOYOTA PRODUCTION AND WORKERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TOYOTA PROBLEMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TOYOTA CARS, RACING AND ROBOTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HONDA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HONDA CARS, PLANES, ROBOTS AND RACING Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NISSAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources on Industry: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Companies Listed by Industry mizuho-sc.com ; Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry meti.go.jp/english ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Manufacturing Chapter stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp

Honda Cars in the United States

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Honda fuel cell
The Honda Accord reached the age 30 in 2007. The newest version sells in the United States for $30,895 and gets 19mpg in city and 21 on the highway with 3.5-liter V-6 engine. It has speed sensitive steering which makes turning the wheel easier when driving slow and more responsive at highway speed. The engine operates on six, four or three cylinders depending on the driving situation. Over 10 million Accords have been sold in the United States. Among the features that have made it a hallmark of efficiency, safety and performance are its advanced vibration dampening system, its five-start frontal crash rating, drive by wire throttle system, and an electronic maintenance minder.

The Honda Civic has traditionally accounted for a fifth of Honda’s sales. Consumer Reports often ranked the Accord and Civic among its best buys. In recent years Odyssey and Stream minivans, and Pilot, CR-V and Element SUVs have sold well in the U.S.

The Element was designed for the youth market. It has been described as a dorm room on wheels. In 1999 Honda introduced the 240bhp, 2-liter S200 to compete with Porsche Boxter. It cost $30,000 possessed a 240 horsepower engine and could go from 0 to 60mph on 6.4 seconds.

Both Toyota and Honda produce large gas-thirsty pick-up trucks and SUV in the United States. Honda makes the mid-size Ridgeline pick up and car-based SUVs like the CR-V, Element and Pilot. In the early 2000s, gains in sales of these vehicles offset declines in car sales.

Honda began selling the Fit subcompact in the U.S. in 2006. The car has garnered lots of interest. It gets 34 miles per gallon the highway and sells for $15,200 in the United States and comes with a satellite-linked navigation system and safety features such as side-curtain airbags. In many countries the Fit is known as the Jazz. Warren Brown, the car critic for the Washington Post wrote, the Fit is a subcompact “that has the utility of a minivan, the attitude of a sports coupe, and the fuel economy of an automobile deemed socially acceptable in the era of high-priced gasoline...But the Fit’s overwhelmingly practical nature does not relegate it to the status of drudgemobile. It’s a funky little car---a mini-tubular, bug-eyed, wide-mouthed thing with a “let’s go” personality. It looks like it wants to do something fun, entertaining.”

Acura is Honda's luxury car. Acura makes the popular MDX SUV

Honda Drops in Consumer Reports Survey But Wins 2012 Green Car of the Year Award

In Consumer Reports' 2012 survey of the best cars, Honda, which has claimed the top overall automaker ranking for the past four years, dropped to fourth place among 13 major automakers this year. It was behind Mazda and then Toyota. The Los Angeles Times reported: “Consumer Reports dinged Honda over the recent redesigns of its Civic compact sedan and Odyssey minivan, which the magazine said didn’t measure up to the models they replaced. The automaker still gets high marks for producing reliable cars, the magazine said. [Source: Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2012]

“The Honda Civic Natural Gas won the 2012 Green Car of the Year award at the L.A. Auto Show. The car is the cleanest-running internal combustion vehicle certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with a 48 MPGe highway fuel economy rating. "There is no other vehicle like the Civic Natural Gas on American highways, and this recognition has been a long time coming for Honda," said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal, which issues the annual award. "The new-generation Civic Natural Gas features greater fuel efficiency, a handsome and roomier new design and tailpipe emissions levels untouchable by any other internal combustion production vehicle." [Source: Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2011]

According to the Green Car Journal, natural gas is a clean fuel that is almost exclusively domestically sourced and is typically priced 30 percent less than gasoline. It also fast fills in about five minutes at the fueling stations that offer natural gas dispensers. The Civic Natural Gas is the only natural gas passenger vehicle to be mass produced. First introduced as a fleet vehicle in 1998, the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas is in its fifth generation. Priced at $26,155, it's available at 200 Honda dealers in 36 states. [Ibid]

Honda Scrambles to Revamp Civic

In the mid 2000s, Honda tried to shake lose from its stodgy image by designing some flashier version of old standard like the Civic and Accord. The Civic was given a more sporty design after sales began to fall off.

Tom Krisher of AP, wrote: “Honda is scrambling to revamp its Civic just eight months after a new version hit showrooms, and critics say it's an admission that the compact car fell short in quality and handling. The revamp, to come by the end of 2012, is rare because new models aren't usually overhauled for at least three years. Honda executives say they're simply trying to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive small-car market. The move comes as small car sales are on the rise in the U.S., and more people choose them because of worries about gas prices and car payments. Compacts also are no longer the cramped econoboxes of the 1980s and 1990s, and they have many of the same amenities as larger cars. [Source: Tom Krisher, AP, December 20, 2011]

“The new Civic was panned by critics when it started arriving at dealerships in April 2011. Consumer Reports magazine said it was less agile than its predecessor, and its interior quality was worse. The magazine refused to give the Civic its coveted "Recommended Buy" rating, saying that the braking distances were long and it suffered from a choppy ride. The car's sales ranked fourth among U.S. compacts from May through November. [Ibid]

“The previous Civic, which came out in 2005, was known for its sporty driving, high-quality interiors, lack of noise and excellent braking, says David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. "The new one seems to have fallen apart in those areas," says Champion, who thinks that Honda cut costs with the 2012 version. [Ibid]

“Honda has told dealers a reworked Civic will arrive before the end of next year. The car starts around $16,000, and a base model with automatic transmission gets 32 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. Its price and fuel mileage are about the same as its competitors.American Honda President Tetsuo Iwamura said that the company will improve the Civic's drivability, but he stopped short of saying exactly what the company will do to the rest of the car. "It's about how do we get two or three laps ahead of the competition," says American Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel. [Ibid]

“In the past two years, the usual compact-car race between the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla became a free-for-all that included high-quality entries from Chevrolet, Ford and Hyundai. The competition will be good for buyers because companies will offer better small cars and could discount them as the competition heats up, Mendel said. He said Honda would continue to show restraint on discounts, selling its products based on their value rather than price. And while Honda saw its production drop by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and by flooding in Thailand the competition has rolled out new models like the well-received Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. [Ibid]

“Despite the criticisms, the Civic still has a strong following of loyal customers, says Jeff Dyke, executive vice president of operations for Charlotte, N.C.-based Sonic Automotive Inc., a dealership chain that includes Honda dealers. "I can't keep one on my lot," he says. [Ibid]

Honda Hybrids

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Honda Insight hybrid
While Honda has had success with its small cars it admits it has fallen behind Toyota with hybrid vehicles. Honda was the first to sell hybrids in the United States but its hybrids looked like its regular cars and sales never took off as they did for the more distinctive Prius. As of 2007 Priuses were outselling hybrid Civics and Accords five to one. Honda canceled the hybrid Accord because it failed to attract buyers.

The Honda Insight is a two-seat, gas-electric hybrid that gets 600 miles on a single, tiny tank of gasoline. Introduced in December 1999, it has a base price of $19,995 and got 61 miles per gallon in the city and 70 on the highway. The Insight drives mostly on gasoline with small electric boost. It gets much of fuel economy from a lightweight, aerodynamic aluminum body. Honda pulled the Insight in 2006.

One of Honda’s strategies is to offer low-cost hybrids. A new Insight is billed at the cheapest hybrid on the market. Marketing using an ad with George Clooney, it sells for about $19,800 in the United States, about 15 percent lower than the Prius. It made its sales room debut in Japan in February 2009 and made the top ten list in sales. In April it was the top-selling car in Japan. In May it fell to third. The car has also sold well in the United States

The Insights gets fuel milage of 43 miles per gallon, compared to 45 for the Prius. It shares parts with other Honda vehicles which has helped keep its price down. It has been purposely designed with a triangular Prius-like shape.

In 2009, Honda plans to introduce a five-passenger, small hybrid, code-named “Global Small Hybrid” that sells for $22,000 and has the best milage of any car. Cheaper than the Prius and aimed at young buyers, Honda hopes to sell 100,000 of these cars a year. Later Honda plans to introduce a sporty hybrid and hybrid version fo the Fit. Honda expect hybrids to account for 10 percent of sales by 2010.

Hybrid technology adds an additional $5,000 to the sales price of a car. Honda wants to reduce the cost to $2,000. Honda is designing motorscooters with hybrid engines. Honda get its batteries from Sanyo and Panasonic. It has invested heavily in batteries and has a deal with battery-maker GS Yuasa to produce lithium-ion batteries.

Honda’s Insight has been selling better than expected, the company plans to introduce a hybrid Fit soon. Suzuki may sell hybrid cars in North American from 2011. In a 2009 investment report Mazda said that it was giving top priority to the development of hybrids. Luxury hybrids such as the $40,000 Lexus HS250h are selling quite well.

In February 2010, Honda launched the world’s first hybrid sports car, the two-seat CR-Z It has a 1.5liter engines that matches a two-liter engine for acceleration, and gets 25 kilometers per liter (about 60 miles per gallon), almost double that a regular gasoline-powered car of the same class. The retail price is about $25,000. It was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto show in 2009 along with a six-seat hybrid (Skydeck) and a small urban-use electric car (the EV-N). It also going to release a hybrid verison of the Fit.

In September 2009 Honda unveiled an intriguing “personal mobility device” called the U3-X that was essentially a unicycle that went whatever direction the driver wanted’sideways and as well as forward and backward---by leaning and was difficult to fall of from. Weighing about 10 kilograms and powered by an electric charge that lasts for about an hour, the devise stands upright on its own and can used like a stool. It unusual stability is made possible by many tiny motor-controlled wheels packed inside the bigger wheel, The “Us” in U3-X-U stands for “unicycle” and “universal.” Honda has not announced any sales plans for the device or how much it will cost. Among the proposals are for it to be used by the elderly people or factory workers.

Honda AC-X, Concept Hybrid Plug-In

In November 2011, Road and Track reported: “The Honda AC-X Concept is a family-size plug-in hybrid that may point to a future design direction for the Accord. Its sleek design is almost a one-box fastback shape that appears to be an evolution of the current fuel cell-powered Clarity. One of the key features of the AC-X Concept is its autonomous drive mode. [Source: Road and Track, November 2011]

“The car features a bold front graphic with a large single bar and prominent Honda logo. The front fascia, side skirts and rear diffuser are moveable, lowering to improve the car’s aerodynamics at speed. The sides of the vehicle are defined by sharp character lines housing ambient lighting that carve a cove from behind the front wheels out through the rear deck. [Ibid]

“The new concept showcases a plug-in hybrid system similar to that slated to bow next year on the Accord. Unlike previous Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology that features capacitors, the new setup includes a lithium-ion battery and auxiliary electric motor that allows the vehicle to be driven up to 31 miles in pure electric mode with a top speed of 62 mph before the gasoline engine kicks in. The plug-in system allows the batteries to reach full charge in about two hours. The electric motor and battery pack are supported by a conventional a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Honda says the total range of the vehicle with its combined pure electric/hybrid power is more than 600 miles. [Ibid]

“The AC-X name stands for “Advanced Cruiser eXperience,” and it points to the dual nature of this vehicle in that it can be driven like a conventional car, or switched into an auto pilot mode. Instead of a conventional steering wheel, the AC-X features a dual joystick control system, a head-up display and cockpit styling that features a large center console. In auto drive mode, the joystick controls stow away and the front seat reclines. [Ibid]

“With the AC-X’s ability to drive itself, a premium is placed on in-vehicle connectivity and entertainment systems for both front and rear passengers. The 4-seat AC-X features dash-mounted screens in front and a pop-up entertainment system in the rear console for the back-seat occupants. [Ibid]

Honda Fuel Cell Cars

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Honda Clairty fuel cell car
The Honda FCX Clarity is a low-slung, futurist-looking, is a fuel cell car that can travel 620 kilometer on a single charge of hydrogen. It was put in sale in Japan in November 2008. In 2009, it was named 2009 Green Car of the Year the World Car Steering Committee.

The Clarity FCX is the first fuel cell car to certified b the United States Environmental Protection Agency and first top be delivered to retail customers. Honda began leasing it for $600 a month in southern California in 2008. One reason it was introduced in California like that was it was hoped it would be picked up by the Hollywood crowd. Among the first to get one were the actor George Clooney and actress Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest.

The FCX runs on hydrogen and electricity and produces no global warming gases. It is two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and has three motors: one for the front wheels and one each for the back wheels. It makes a whooshing sound when it is turned on as the hydrogen mixes with air. The electric engine is very quiet, sounding like a golf cart at low speed and perhaps a quiet aircraft engine when it picks up speed. The only exhaust is water.

Describing what it is like to drive the FCX Clarity, Christian Caryl wrote in Newsweek, “Slip behind the wheel and press the pedal, and the car accelerates with satisfying punch. But after a few minutes of cruising, you’ll notice that something’s missing. The only engine noise is a whir so faint that you can actually hear the tires swishing along the asphalt.”

The biggest problem with hydrogen cell cars is getting a hold of the hydrogen. Gas stations with hydrogen have opened in Irvine, Torrence and Santa Monica, California. Honda is developing a home fuel station that uses a homeowners natural gas supply and solar energy to produce hydrogen. Such a system would negate the need to refuel at a station.

In 2009, Honda plans to introduce a fuel cell sports car with a top speed of 160kph and a traveling range of 570 kilometers. Honda hopes to start mass production of fuel cell cars in 2015.

In August 2005, Honda, GM and BMW agreed to tie up on fuel cell R&D. The three firms aim to standardized fuel nozzles, filler necks and other relayed components to establish a safe hydrogen supply system. Hydrogen os kept at -250 C. If it leaks it can be very dangerous.

Honda has produces a clean and efficient diesel engine. In 2009, Honda plans to introduce a diesel car that meets California’s strict diesel exhaust standards.

Honda Motorcycles

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new Honda CBR 1000
Honda is the world largest maker of motorcycles. It sold its 200 millionth motorcycle in November 2008. In 2007, Honda sold 13.47 motorcycles worldwide, up 7 percent from the previous year.

Honda has a strong motorcycle division and controls nearly half of the global market in commuter scooters. That has helped drive growth and profits, compared to rival Japanese automakers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. that don't have such businesses.

Honda is the No.1 motorcycle producers in Japan. It sells about 10 million motorcycles a year globally. Sales in the April to June period in 2010 were 2.89 million units, up 28.2 percent from the same period in 2009.In July 2010, Honda said it was going to lower the price and make minor adjustments in all 45 of its models in an attempt to win young riders back to the marker, the prices would be dropped 10 percent to 30 percent to 2000 levels.

Honda motorcycles sold well in Thailand, Indonesia and India in fiscal 2009-2010. Honda had a successful partnership with Hero Motors in India. That partnership was broken off recently as Honda aimed to introduce a wider ranger of motorcycles. In December 2010, Honda sold its stake in Hero for an estimated $1 billion. Hero Honda had 4,500 outlets in India, Honda has 800 and plans to open 200 a year.

The Honda Cub debuted in 1958 with a 49cc engine. More than 60 million of them have been sold worldwide since then. They are still being produced in 11 countries.

In February 2008, Honda announced it would stop making motorcycles in the United States, closing a plant in Ohio that opened in 1979, to concentrate on making cars. Motorcycles sold in the United States will be made in Mexico and Japan. The 4550 employees at the factory were reassigned to other Honda plants.

Honda's Eco Motorcycles

In September 2011, according to AP, Honda announced it had developed a new fuel-efficient motorcycle engine that will be used in a scooter that goes on sale globally in 2012. The new engine for 125-cc scooters is 25 percent more fuel efficient than similar conventional ones. It targets people who use scooters to commute not only in Japan but also in Southeast Asia and other nations. [Source: AP, September 25, 2011]

Honda developed a series of little ideas that worked incrementally, rather than one major breakthrough, to reduce friction in engine parts such as new types of pistons as well as better control over combustion and improved electronic starters. Honda did not give a price for the new scooter, but acknowledged that keeping prices low through cost cuts is the crucial challenge for the business.

Honda also said it was planning green technology for a bigger motorcycle engine that will be sold globally, but targeting especially Europe.Honda did not say when the midsize motorcycle will go on sale. Details will be announced at the Milan and Tokyo auto shows next month, it said.

Honda is developing an airbag for two-wheeled vehicles. It will be installed under the handlebars of large scooters. It is also working on an anti-lock breaking system for two-wheeled vehicles.

Honda Motorcycles in China and Africa

Honda has a partnership with Dongfeng Motor to produce motorcycles. They have a plant on Dongfeng in central China. After it began producing bikes there was a big problem with counterfeit Honda parts showing up on the market.

Honda exported 170,000 motorcycles from China in 2004. It hopes to increase that figure to 300,000 in 2007.

In December 2004, Honda won a lawsuit over copycat rival that sold models under the “Hongda” logo. A Chinese court ruled that Chongqing-based Lifan motors, the company that makes Hongda, was require to pay Honda $177,600 in damages and stop sales and export of Hongda motorcycles.

In January 2010, Honda announced it would begin selling $700 motorbikes in Nigeria.

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Hondajet, Honda's Aircraft

Honda was the first company to develop car navigation systems. Its lacked a strategy in setting up a global standard which allowed electronic manufacturers to take over the market.

In 2006, Honda introduced a small jet called the Hondajet. The plane carries six or eight passengers and has a patented over-the-wing engine mount configuration that helps it reach speeds of 778kph and an altitude of 9,150 meters. The aircraft fulfills a dream that Honda founder, Soichiro Honda, had in the 1960s for Honda to enter the aerospace industry. It also marked the first time that an automaker has successfully made an executive jet.

The Hondajet is 12.5 meters long and has a wingspan of 12.2 meters. It weighs less than 4,000 kilograms and is 10 percent faster, roomier and uses 40 percent less fuel than rival aircraft of its size. A prototype was flown 2005. Delivery of the planes is expected to be in 2010.

In 2004, Honda signed a deal with GE to produce jet engines for light business jets. The engines---the HF-118 turbofan jet engines---are used to power the Hondajets. Honda may challenge Rolls Royce and General Electric for a place in the jet engine industry.

Plans originally called for production of 70 to 80 jets a year starting at the end of 201l but the project was slowed by cutbacks resulting from the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.

Honda conducted its first tests of its light jet in December 2010. The Hondajet was airborne for 50 minutes in a test flight in North Carolina that was deemed successful. A Honda Aircraft spokesman said, “We are very encouraged by our initial review of the flight data, which indicated Hondajet performed as expected.” Mass production is slated to begin at a plant in North Carolina in 2012. The company already has orders for more than 100 aircraft.

The $4.5 million HondJet will be ready for delivery in 2013, a year later than previously planned. Honda plans to set up a jet service center in North Carolina. In July 2011, Honda said it hoped the HondaJet would grab 15 percent of the global company jet market by 2021. As of that time Honda had received 100 orders for the planes. Production is supposed to start in 2012, with the annual output reaching 100 in 2014, and profits appearing in 2017. By that time Honda hopes to be making a larger jet, whose development costs are expected to be a third less than the first HondaJet.

Honda began mass producing solar cells in 2007. The company says it hopes to earn between ¥5 billion and ¥8 billion from the sales of the cells. Honda makes solar car.

Asimo, Honda’s Human Robot

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The most impressive humanlike robot developed thus far is Asimo, a 1.2-meter, 43 kilogram (95 pounds) android that resembles a small child in an astronaut suit with a backpack. It is produced by Honda, which bends over backward to make the robot seem as cute and friendly as possible.

Asimo stand for "Advance Step in Innovative Mobility." His name is derived from ashita ("tomorrow") and ashi ("leg"). Add a "v" to his name and you get the name of a famous science fiction writer who came up with the three laws of robotics in I Robot that robots must: 1) not harm humans, 2) obey humans, and 3) not harm each other.

“Born” in October 2000, the first Asimo could walk smoothly like a human (a feat once thought impossible), climb stairs, negotiate corners, kick a soccer ball, recognize voices, dance, turn off lights, and shake hands with amazing lifelikeness. He could walk at 1.3mph, carry 4½ pounds and push a cart but was unable to walk through doors. The result of 15 years of work Asimo is an improvement of Honda's 160-centimeter-tall, 130-kilogram P-3 robot, first unveiled in 1997.

Advanced Asimos introduced in the mid 2000s could jog, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations. Equipped with a sensor that could read microchips in identification cards, the robot could recognize people approaching from both the front and the rear and address them by name. Some find Asimo’s movements and actions to be childlike they sometimes feel like the robot is a child inside a spaceman outfit.

Asimo can operate for about an hour on a single battery charge and needs about 90 minutes to recharge. The Asimo unveiled in December 2007 could charge its battery without help, and take into consideration the movement of people around it before deciding which route to take, and work with other Asimos to perform tasks.

Teaching Asimo to Walk

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Honda’s first bipedal robot in 1986 was just a pair of legs. By 1993 it had a torso and arms and stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 388 pounds. To get Asimo down to its current 4-foot-3 inch, 119-pound size required shrinking down the gears and actuators.

It took from 1986 to 1996 to teach Asimo how to walk. Teaching Asimo to walk and a shift its center of gravity like a human was the most difficult task. The algorithm that gives Asimo its smooth walk is classified information and patented.

The developer of Asimo, Honda engineer Masato Hirose, video taped his young son as he developed from an infant to a toddler to understand how human beings walked. After examining the tapes he realized the importance of the nerves on the soles of the human foot and gave Asimo sensors on his feet to help him locate the edge of stairs and maintain a enter of gravity on slopes. Hirose has directed Honda’s Humanoid robot project since 1987 and pursued it “because we thought it would be fun.”

Toru Takenaka, the chief engineer of robotics development at Honda, told Asahi Shimbun, "We made the sole of the foot flexible and brought in controls for flexible movement of the ankle to make sure the robot would not lose stability when it stepped on something. Honda's robots keep their knees bent all the time like skiers who keep their knees bent at all the ups and downs in the terrain. In addition, our robots can put a strain on the soles of their feet to keep themselves from falling."

Asimo Upgrades

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Asimo recharges himself
An upgraded Asimo unveiled in December 2002 was outfit with a camera in its head. Programmed to understand human gestures and movement, it could wave back at people that waved at him, shake hands, recognize 10 different preprogrammed faces. It still had problems recognizing barriers and moving so it didn’t fall over and needed human assistants.

A jogging Asimo was introduced in December 2004. At that stage it could jog with a mechanical-looking run at three kilometers per hour using infrared cameras and sensors to help it keep balance and absorb shock. It has a rotating hip that countered the impact of the landing on the ground when running. Running differs from walking in that both feet must off the ground at a given point in time.

The Asimo that appeared in December 2005, could serve tea, push a small cart and run six kilometers per hour, twice its previous speed and escort guests in accordance with his or her speed. . Its movements were controlled with a camera in its head and senors in its wrists.

More Asimo Upgrades

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Asimo moves in response to
human thoughts
Advanced Asimos can walk backwards, move forward when pulled and backward when pushed using infrared and laser sensors as well cameras. Honda is working on Asimo’s recognition patterns so it can communicate with people and navigate a car.

Visitors to Honda headquarters in Tokyo in 2008 were greeted by Asimo with “Welcome to Honda! Please follow me.” The robot then ushered them to table in the reception area and served them tea with a bow. In May 2008, Asimo conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as it performed Impossible Dream. Asimo can not respond to the players but mimicked actions of a conductor who was videotaped beforehand.

Asimo displayed in early 2009 could respond to a human thought. A subject wearing a helmet with special sensors could think about something like “raise one’s right hand” Instruments that use infra-red spectroscopy and electroencephalographs to measure brain blood flow and electrical signals are capable of sorting out the thought and issue orders to Asimo for four simple actions such as raising his right hand. In the first experiments the robot Asimo has performed the tasks with 90 percent accuracy. In the future its hoped the technology will help disabled people who need a drink or something to eat put can’t get it themselves.

Honda has the goal of producing human-like robots for practical use by 2010. It still has some way to go to achieve that goal. When Asimo is demonstrated it is often done so in a room outfit with reflectors for Asimo’s laser and infrared technology and is carefully watched by a team of researcher ready to hit the off button if something goes wrong.

Asimo’s Career

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Asimo moves in response to
human thoughts
Asimo has more than paid for itself with the publicity it has given Honda. In the early 2000s, Asimo appeared in a number of Honda print ad televison advertisements. One memorable one shows him dancing with a cute little girl in European old city of square. He has rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, posed for photographers, gone on tour and waved to adoring crowds.

Asimo initially was rented out at $1 million a year. He was paid $150,000 to welcome visitors at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. He also worked for a year as a greeter at the Takashimaya department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. After a month of training, he welcomed people at the entrance of the store and provided some information.

In 2003, twenty-five Asimos were made available for rent for at least $20,000 per appearance. Booking were done some time in advance. Asimo required “rehearsal time” and was always accompanied by at least three assistants.

Asimo has accompanied Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi on overseas trip. At a dinner party in Prague in the Czech Republic, he greeted the Czech prime minister and told him in Czech, “As good will ambassador, I am visiting the country where the word robot came from.”

Asimo has failed to generate much income but Honda insists advances made in robotics have led to advances in mechanics, sensors, computer chips and artificially intelligence, all of which have led to advances in automotive technology and helped produce better cars. Technologies adapted from Asimo has led to development of the Lane Keeping Assist Program, which helps cars keep centered in their lanes using cameras that monitor lane lines. The technology was introduced in Accord models sold in Europe in 2008. Technology also flows the other way. Researchers have used collision avoidance systems develop by cars to enable two Asimos to avoid obstacles in a room and avoid crashing into each other.

Honda and Motorcycle Racing

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early motorcycle racing
Honda has been involved in Grand Prix motorcycle racing since 1959. It won its first race in 1961 and won all three classes---125cc, 250cc and 500cc---in the 2001 MotoGP season for Grand Prix motorcycle racing. In 1985 Honda won the motorcycle championship in the 250cc and 500cc class with a single rider, something previously thought impossible.

In 2009, Honda said it would also scale down its motorcycle racing,

Honda and Car Racing

Honda and Toyota operate rival tracks. Honda’s Suzuka Circuit is 5.8 kilometers long and located in Suzaka in Mie Prefecture. It held Japan’s Formula One races from 1987 to 2004 and through 2007

Honda and Toyota are leaders in making engines for the 20-race CART FedEx Championship races. Honda won its forth manufacturer's title with 348 points in 2001 (the others were in 1996, 1998 and 1999). In 2001, Helio Castronevs won the Indianapolis 500 with a Honda engine and Gol de Fettan won his second consecutive CART driver season championship with a Honda engine.

Toyota and Honda cars occupied the first 17 positions in the 2003 Indianapolis 500. That year Toyota debuted at Indy and Honda returned after eight years away. Their engine are more powerful than those of General Motors, the top U.S. manufacturer. Many members of their CART teams moved to Indy Racing League (IRL).

Honda won its first Indy pole and first Indy win in 2003 and its first Indy championship in 2004.

Honda and Formula One Racing

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Honda’s founder Soichiro Honda decided to enter Formula One in the 1960s after going to three races in 1964 with a team of about 20 members. Honda enjoyed its heyday in the sport in the 1980s when it was a major supplier of Formula One engines Honda won 71 races through to 1992. Honda withdrew from racing from 1993 an 1999 and entered again in 2000. It spends much less and gets better results than Toyota.

Honda supplied the engines for McLaren and Williams when they were dominant from 1986 to 1991. In 2001, Honda supplied engines for Jordan and BAR, who battled it out for fifth and sixth place in the manufactures title in the 2001 season. Jacques Villeneuve of BAR made the podium with a Honda engine. Honda make its engines at its celebrated Research & Development facility in Tochigi, Japan.

Honda was championship runner-up with BAR Honda in 2004 before buying the team in 2005. The had just one win: Briton Jenson Button’s win in Hungary in 2006.

In 2005, Honda and British American Tobacco joined forces to create the BAR Honda Formula One team. The team is 45 percent owned by Honda. Drivers for the tam in 2006 were Briton Jensen Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, formally with Ferrari.

Honda employed 700 people and spent between $300 million and $500 million a year but only earned 20 points in 2007 and 2008 and finished next to last in ninth place in 2008. By comparison tiny Toros won a race and scored 39 points in one year with a Ferrari engine. Honda’s poor performance made it difficult to find sponsors.

Honda drivers in 2008 were Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichelo. Without any major sponsors, Honda promoted its “Earth Car,” which performed poorly. But Honda had high hopes for 2009, recruiting former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn to head its team,

Honda Withdraws from Formula One Racing

In November 2008, Honda announced that it was withdrawing from Formula One because of money worries associated with the global financial crisis and the high cost of running a Formula One team. Some also speculate that is poor performance in the previous year was also a factor.

In March 2009, Honda announced that it had sold the ownership of its Formula One team to team boss Ross Brawn. The name of the team was officially changed to Brawn GP. Britain’s Jensen Button and Brazilian Rubens Barichello were kept as drivers.

The deal with Brawn was worked out after a deal with Virgin Richard Branson fell through, a $143 million rescue offer by Formula one Bernie Ecclestone was rejected and rumors that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim was going t buy the team turned out to be false. Virgin became a major sponsor. Brawn installed a Mercedes engine

Ironically, Brawn did great in the 2009 season. Button had won six of seven races as of early June and was ahead in the point standings

Image Sources: Honda except Formula One (Wikipedia)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated October 2012

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