Honda is chanting the car industry’s slogan of magically delivering a “collision-free society” by harnessing the latest technology. It’s hardly a novel marketing ploy, even for Honda, though, and you’ll predictably have to be patient, as the company says it won’t arrive as standard equipment until 2030.
Since the 1950s, automakers have promised that advanced driver aids will eventually lead to risk-free driving. However, the narrative became ubiquitous around 2015, when manufacturers began promising that self-driving cars would soon eliminate crashes and that battery-powered cars would save the environment. You’ve heard every brand say this a million times before, usually releasing a detailed plan with no deadlines.
Nevertheless, progress was eventually made. It tends to happen much more slowly than promised, and one that automakers can use to financially rationalize their massive development budgets.
Honda Sensing has been embedded in its products since 2014, providing a range of convenience and safety features that have been sought after throughout the industry. Over the years, we’ve seen manufacturers add features like lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. But Honda says it’s about to add “hands-free driving” in a few years with an updated version of its sensing suite.
Well, it will be a few years before North Americans gain access. The updated version will actually debut in China this year under the Honda Sensing 360 and Sensing Elite banners. But the company has announced that they will start entering the US market in the second half of this decade. So by 2025, you should start seeing all those fancy hands-free products that Honda plans to make standard by 2030.
As for what you’re actually getting, the name is a bit giving away. While the original Sensing system relied on a single camera and front-facing sensor array, the new version will add five millimeter-wave sensors (essentially a horizontal radar system) to provide 360-degree coverage. This should make current ADAS more reliable and capable.
Honda claims the update will “further ease the burden on the driver by detecting abnormal conditions occurring around the driver and the vehicle and reducing the risk of a collision.” While it didn’t specify what that means, it sounds like there will be some form of driving monitoring, which presumably means in-vehicle cameras.
If you’re wondering why China got priority, there are several possibilities. Honda either believes that China has overtaken the US as an economic superpower and will only make more people willing to pay more for these features, or that without some changes, the system will not be able to pass US regulatory requirements to meet vehicle safety standards — — what’s happening right now.
It’s also possible that Honda is concerned about North American consumer acceptance. While the industry as a whole is pushing for screen-centric infotainment systems, hands-free driving technology and assistance features for safer travel, the industry has received mixed feedback on some of these fronts in the United States. Studies show that advanced driver aids aren’t all that effective and can gradually erode driver skill more than good, while buttonless interiors have proven they’re more effort than quiet. The prospect of implementing a driver monitoring camera is also very unpopular among Americans, and it looks like Sensing 360 may include it.
By focusing so much on the above, automakers have alienated a segment of buyers who care more about fundamentals than how well their cars mimic smartphone capabilities. But they’re also competing with each other, and know that just as many shoppers will be swayed by the size of the screen mounted on the dash. No one wants to be accused of being a lagging brand, even if the future seems superficial and short-sighted. At the same time, governments began requiring advanced driver assistance devices and driver monitoring systems as safety precautions — often at the behest of auto lobbyists.
From the sound of things, it appears that Honda wants to modernize its advanced driving system to be more competitive with other brands that rely more heavily on the technology. But you still won’t get a self-driving car.
“Advanced Lane Driving with Autopilot” seems like the coolest feature of the Honda Sensing 360. It’s basically hands-free cruise control with cornering capabilities (think Tesla Autopilot). However, it’s claimed it won’t ask you to take back control of the steering wheel unless the car decides it can’t navigate the road ahead. If you fail to do this, the car will go crazy (honk and flashing lights) to alert those around you that you are unresponsive and about to crash, while it does its best to avoid hitting anyone. Emergency steering support technology should technically bring the car to a stop as safely as possible. But that’s easier said than done when everything is spinning sideways at 70 mph.
Acura products will also feature tech, most interesting being the Exit Alert feature, which alerts nearby (or oncoming) pedestrians or approaching vehicles you may not have noticed. While the really slick stuff will be exclusive to the Sensing Elite, Honda says it’s ready to embrace “technology that assists the driver on off-highway roads, including a hands-off function when navigating through traffic jams on arterial roads; enable hands-off functionality when exiting the expressway; assist the driver by automatically entering and exiting the home garage.”
Again, these are things we’ve seen other manufacturers show off in the past. But they’re not features you’d normally associate with a Honda product. Regardless, manufacturers are making some pretty big claims about the system, and it will be impressive to see a successful execution – even if it comes with annoying driver monitoring and more warning chimes than anyone should be able to handle.
The current version of Honda Sensing is standard on all new Hondas and Acuras sold in North America. The Honda Sensing 360 and associated AcuraWatch will begin offering hands-free functionality in China immediately and are planned to become standard equipment globally by 2030 (the Honda product is said to have cut traffic fatalities in half). But there doesn’t appear to be an official timeline for the Sensing Elite, not that we expect the automaker to follow anything.
[Image: KULLAPONG PARCHERAT/Shutterstock]
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