When we talk about autonomous vehicles, discussion typically focuses on the issues of navigating city streets and driving on the highway. However, there are many other situations in which autonomy can be useful. Honda demonstrates this ably with its prototype Autonomous Work Vehicle, and has already put the cute little rover to work.
The Honda AWV is built around the company's Pioneer side-by-side chassis. However, the AWV is all-electric, with four-wheel drive, a range of up to 27.9 miles and a charging time of 6 hours from a 120V socket. Measuring just under 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, it's capable of carrying up to 880 lbs, while it can tow a load weighing up to 1653 lbs. In fact, the AWV has a bed not dissimilar from those you'd see on a typical Honda kei truck.
In order to perceive the world around it, the AWV is loaded with sensors. Naturally, GPS is onboard, allowing the vehicle to know its position in space. There's also a forward-facing camera on board, as well as a special 3D stereoscopic camera on the front which appears to be a Stereolabs ZED or ZED2 device. Lidar and radar sensors are also fitted to the front of the vehicle, and are used to allow the AWV to navigate around obstacles.
To test the AWV in real-world situations, Honda put a handful of the vehicles to work with Black and Veatch, an engineering and construction firm based out of Kansas City, Missouri. The company is presently building out a 120 MW solar installation on a large 1000-acre site in New Mexico, and the AWV was sent in to assist the efforts.
"Having 1000 acres, it takes quite a bit of time to get from one side of the job site to the other," says Mary Korte, Construction Manager at Black and Veatch, adding that the Honda AWV "cuts down on travel time for us, and allows the equipment to do the job instead of having more people allocated to getting material out in the field."
As a fully-electric offroad-capable vehicle, the AWV can move autonomously or can be directed by remote control. On-site, the AWV is primarily used for material transport. This is achieved either by carrying loads in its tray or towing trailers. The AWV can be seen hauling crates and boxes for construction purposes, as well as delivering bottled water across the broad site in order to keep workers hydrated in the New Mexico heat.
"The knowledge that we gain from this project will ultimately help motivate the design of the next-generation AWVs," says Kenton Williams, Honda's US project lead for the AWV project. Noting that the company is seeking further business partners to work with, Williams notes that "Honda's ultimate goal is to make this technology available and more useful to a variety of industries."
The Honda AWV might not be doing anything massively groundbreaking, but it's a personable little robotic sack truck that we'd love to work with. It's probably not allowed due to occupational health and safety regulations, but we're sure they'd be fun to ride on, too. In any case, expect autonomous technology to bring about big changes to material transport, whether on the job site or the open road.
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